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There are few challenges more difficult than going through divorce and having a child with special needs. When there is a child with special needs involved in a divorce, issues with child custody, parenting time, support and property division are significantly more complex to negotiate.
Custody and parenting time with a special needs child may require a different plan than the one established for your other children. While all children need consistency, often a special needs child requires complete adherence to a parenting plan as they do not do well switching homes or caretakers. Moreover, they may not understand and may fear they will not see their other parent again if a schedule is not consistently adhered to. Joint custody may be difficult, as parents might not agree on the significant decisions that are required in tending to a special needs child. Moreover, time is often of the essence in medical decisions, and delaying decisions to permit both parents to participate may harm the child. Additionally, medical insurance often only pays for one set of equipment, so the medical equipment needed may have to be shared or stay in the child’s primary residence.
It is also important to understand that school districts do not have an obligation to educate children not domiciled within their town. Thus, if a special needs child is living illegally within a school district, the board may take steps to remove that child from the school as the cost to educate a special needs child is significantly higher than an ordinary student. However, special services are often available through the state and/or federal government which could provide financial benefits to the family to assist their child with education and offset many of the costs.
New Jersey State Guidelines do not take into consideration special needs children. However, supplemental income programs, such as supplemental social security income (SSI) and/or Medicaid, may both be available to the family to offset costs associated with raising a special needs child. Parents may consider creating a special needs trust, in lieu of child support, to provide funds for the child and protect the child’s eligibility for government aid which is often means-tested.
Other significant costs involved in raising a special needs child may include legal fees. It is not uncommon to challenge school districts to compel them to provide the educational services necessary for the child. Thus, a special educational lawyer is often retained to address these needs, which can lead to a significant legal expense.
Because parent’s rights terminate at age 18, children with disability may require guardians to advocate for their best interests after they become an adult. Thus, the parents will still be required to petition the Court to obtain guardianship over their special needs child. Legal expenses will be incurred to establish the guardianship for a child and/or a special needs trust. Not only do the parent’s legal costs have to be paid, but additional funds are often required to pay for experts and a court appointed attorney.
The parties may also consider that one parent may be unable to work or work full time, due to an obligation to care for the special needs child. The inability for a parent to secure full time employment or maximize their employability should be reflected in the alimony decisions made by the parties. Alternatively, the parties may be required to hire nursing care for the time when the parents are unavailable. When constructing a divorce agreement involving a family with a special needs child, special care must be given to estate planning when the child transitions to adulthood that would not otherwise be considered as significant in a divorce. Financial consideration of the parties must be viewed with the anticipation of caring of the child well beyond the age of majority.
The divorce lawyer experienced in helping families with special needs children is a tremendous benefit when undertaking to structure an agreement that will consider not only the needs of the parents, but the needs of the special needs child. This all must be accomplished while taking into consideration the other children of the relationship and their need to being financially and emotionally cared for.
If you need assistance with a divorce involving special needs children, please contact the Law Offices of Jeffrey M. Bloom today to schedule your initial consultation by calling (855) 208-3650. Mr. Bloom serves clients in Bergen County, Hudson County, West New York, and surrounding areas.