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Navigating Divorce With a Special Needs Child

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Many couples stay together too long for the interests of a disabled child, but divorce in a special needs family doesn't need to be painful. While families with special needs children can split successfully, it does require careful research and planning beforehand. By communicating with your family and coordinating with an experienced divorce attorney, you can find a solution that provides the most long-term benefit for both you and your child.

Supporting Your Child Emotionally

Before you worry about the technical details of a divorce, be sure your child has the emotional support needed to get through this difficult period. Children of all ages and abilities struggle to process divorce, and special needs children are no exception. If you are concerned that the divorce is impacting your child negatively for a prolonged period of time, it may help to seek counseling with the whole family.

Defining Your Child's Special Needs

Every child with special needs is different, and the legal system takes steps to ensure those needs are met. Before parental rights can be negotiated, both parties should agree on a professional outline of the child's medical care and education requirements. This can help a court decide which parent is best equipped to provide for the child on a daily basis.  
In certain cases, parents are not able to reach a consensus on this front. At this point, outside professionals may need to step in and provide an objective opinion for the court. You should also consider the needs of the primary caretaker at this time. If the child will spend long periods of time with one parent, you should factor in the expenses of supplemental care to give that parent occasional ​time off.

Considering Public Benefits and Insurance

People with special needs enjoy access to programs meant to ease their additional costs and pressures in life. These programs, however, are often restricted to families within a certain income or that meet other requirements. Before making any major changes to your family's situation, be sure you understand exactly how it will affect public benefits or health insurance for your child.

Determining Custody and Child Support

Once you have considered all of these factors, you, your attorneys, and the court can reach a consensus that best serves your child. Working with experienced family lawyers at this stage is crucial to avoid costly mistakes or oversights. The complex factors examined prior must all be considered at once to find the least disruptive solution through adulthood and beyond.
In many cases, divorced parents of disabled children set up a special needs trust. A trust allows you or another individual to supplement and support a disabled child without jeopardizing access to public benefits. By establishing funds that are not intended to primarily support your child, you can fill in any gaps that public programs like Medicare or Social Security do not cover. 

 Setting and Enforcing a Schedule

After coming to a compromise, you and your ex-spouse will need to work together to minimize the stress of divorce on your child. This means agreeing to schedules and sticking to them. Structure is especially important for special needs children, who may respond poorly to unexpected changes. In addition, regular therapy and educational appointments may be disturbed without a set custody and visitation schedule.
If you later find that your ex-spouse is not cooperating with child support or other parental duties, you have options. Children with disabilities often receive extra protections under the law. You may, for example, be able to garnish income from public benefits collected by your spouse.
Whenever you are concerned about the legal rights and well-being of your child, contact a local family law firm like Bahrie Law to begin solving the problem.