Parents of children with special needs can encounter a host of challenges concerning their child's care and well-being. They often spend countless hours advocating for their child's increased educational and health requirements while also parenting and operating their household. Unfortunately, the stress of all of these responsibilities can take its toll on a marriage. When parents in this situation decide to end their relationship, they will have to consider not only the terms of their divorce but also how to plan for their child’s future.
In Florida, the court generally presumes that when parents share parental responsibilities, it is best for the child. These responsibilities will be an important part of the parenting plan which they will follow after the divorce and will include things such as dictating medical care, educational, and psychological treatment. When a child has a disability or other special need, parents may have to make vital decisions regarding their child’s care on a routine basis. These choices usually require a high degree of knowledge concerning the child’s condition and ongoing requirements. While it is best if parents can share in decision-making, this is not always possible or realistic. Therefore, it will be important to include a provision in the parenting plan which identifies a third-party resource, such as a mutually agreed upon professional, who can make a decision when parents reach an impasse concerning their child’s needs. It may also be the situation that parents simply cannot agree on critical aspects of their child’s education or care. In this instance, if parents are unable to divide their duties, the court may have to designate one parent as having some or all of these decision-making responsibilities.
Time Sharing refers to a parent’s time to be with their child and is a key aspect of any parenting plan. When it comes to sharing time with a child with a special need, parents may have to be more flexible. For example, it may be because of their condition the child will do better being at one parent's home more than the other. Further, when a child has a learning issue, and one parent cannot be present for educational meetings or to implement supports, that parent’s home may not be the ideal environment during the majority of the school year. Additionally, if a child has psychological or psychiatric symptoms which can be exacerbated by changes in their routine, the time-sharing plan may need to be structured in a manner which minimizes transitions. Moreover, when the child has a physical disability which requires specialized medical equipment, one parent's home may be better equipped for their needs. By conferring with the professionals involved in your child’s care, you can get recommendations on how best to support their educational and therapeutic goals. From there, you can incorporate this information into an appropriate time-sharing plan.
Another critical area is the matter of child support. When a child has a disability or other special needs, the ordinary child support formula will not always be adequate to cover their expenses. Therefore, it will be important for the parents to calculate the added costs for their child when proposing a support amount. In some cases, the figure will need to be higher than that provided by the statutory guideline and may extend beyond its age limitations. Further, your child's future care may also implicate alimony and affect property division during divorce.
Taking a child’s disability or special needs into consideration during divorce is essential. We have knowledgeable and experienced family law attorneys who understand the issues which come with divorce and planning for children with special needs. We are here for you and can help. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.