Divorce with Children with Special Needs

Divorce with children is a difficult process to go through for anyone, but when one or more of those children have special needs, the process can be even more painful and challenging. The issues of custody, parenting time, child support and property division can be significantly more complex to negotiate when considering the special needs of the child. Some issues that require special consideration, both logistically and cost-wise, are:

  • Specialized medical care and/or therapy
  • Medical equipment
  • Vitamins and nutritional needs
  • Paid respite or home health care

In last week’s blog, we briefly talked about the child’s best interest and how that is taken into account on decisions of how legal decision making and parenting time are assigned between the parties. Children with special needs require much more care, so therefore, the custody agreement and parenting plan must reflect much more careful consideration of these needs and the associated costs involved.

For example, consider specialized medical equipment.  If the child must have access to this equipment for daily treatment and the equipment is not very portable, parenting time can be affected.  The parent without the equipment may have more difficulty sharing equal parenting time or there could be substantial and additional cost in obtaining a duplicate set for each separate household. Outside-of-the-box thinking may be needed to facilitate substantial and quality time with the child for both parents while still meeting their child’s  needs.

Another significant consideration in a divorce with special needs children is child support.  In Arizona, support typically ends when a child turns eighteen years old and has graduated high school or nineteen at the latest.  However, if a child has special needs or disability requiring continuing care and support beyond the age of majority, the legal responsibility of child support can continue and the family court has discretion to decide, on a case by case basis, whether or not the support should extend into adulthood for those children.

Other unique issues may arise when it comes to structuring a divorce decree, especially when it comes to the time when those children with special needs transition into adulthood.  These considerations include:

  • Guardianship
  • Maintaining government or private agency benefits
  • Employment
  • Independent living or custodial care
  • Recreation and social skills building

Managing the care of a child with special needs can be a full time job in and of itself, and the negative effect that this may have on the primary caregiving parent’s income or employment will also be considered when it comes to calculating child support and spousal maintenance.

If you find yourself or a loved one in need of a divorce with children that have special needs and you would like to work with one of our experienced Attorneys, please call OWENS & PERKINS at 480.994.8824 to schedule your free 30 minute consultation.