Divorce, When You Have a Special Needs Child

If you have a special needs child then you are abundantly aware of the unique challenges you face with day to day parenting, and planning for your child’s future. You worry now, and stress over how he or she will manage one day when you’re gone. You want to give your special needs child the best chance possible to live a happy, healthy, productive life no matter what he or she encounters.

Daily life will change, and you need a plan

In the event of divorce, visitation may be one of the trickier issues to sort out for your special needs child. He or she may be used to a particular routine that is paramount to getting through his or her day, or he or she may need equipment, such as a wheelchair for mobility or another medical device. Your child may even need to keep routine medical visits, which can be complicated if you and your spouse move far away from each other. Whatever the circumstance, you need to be prepared to deal with the hurdles associated with your child traveling on a regular basis.

With any child going through a divorce, but particularly a special needs child, the parenting plan is incredibly important to your child’s wellbeing. You and your spouse may have vastly different ideas on how to approach your child’s care, and consistency is required with special needs children. You both need to be on the same page when it comes to making decisions regarding medical care, education, behavior, adapting to physical or emotional changes, and any other facet affecting your child’s life.

Financial planning is key

Anyone who has a child and is embarking on divorce, will incur many expenses separately because your child will be living between two different households. Food, clothing, school supplies, possibly daycare costs, activity fees, and health insurance are just the basics. When you have a special needs child, these expenses can be overwhelming.

Depending on your child’s health needs, you may require regular medical care, therapy visits, counseling, accommodations to your home, and maybe even medical equipment – none of which is inexpensive. Some of those expenses will double to ensure that you have two households that are equipped to properly care for your child.

You need to take into account your marital assets that will be divided in your divorce, and apportion an appropriate share for the future care of your special needs child. Because the care requirements for every special needs child vary, so does the expense.

Sitting down with a certified financial planner to figure out the best way to protect your child might seem scary, but you need a clear picture of what your child realistically needs financially, and the best way to go about getting there. A child with autism can require millions of dollars in care over his or her lifetime. That’s not an easy bill to foot for most parents. You are going to need help.

Talk with your divorce attorney about a referral to an estate planning attorney to set up a special needs trust for your child. These trusts can be funded with life insurance and other assets not owned by your son or daughter. While a spouse cannot be forced to purchase life insurance, you may explore the option with your divorce attorney of including a life insurance provision in your settlement agreement, in addition to child support to help fund a special needs trust.

There are other financial vehicles available for ensuring your child’s future such as an ABLE account, created under the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act in 2014. This is a tax deferred account specifically for special needs individuals. This is another possible provision that you can ask your divorce attorney to negotiate into your divorce settlement if your spouse is unwilling to participate voluntarily.

Caring for a special needs child is an experience many parents fear. The idea of having to go it alone, to some extent, can become emotionally paralyzing and financially devastating as you try to maneuver through every new challenge. If you believe your divorce will affect your special needs child, schedule a consultation with one of our caring Fulton family law attorneys at McCabe Russell, P.A. by calling 443-812-1435 or by providing your information on our contact form. We also maintain offices in Columbia, Bethesda and Rockville.