It is commonly believed that parents of children with special needs have a higher rate of divorce then the general public. This premise sounds believable, due to the extra stress that having a special needs child would place upon a couple. Whether or not this premise is accurate, and there are statistical studies to support both sides of this issue, the reality is that all married couples face the possibility of divorce and the presence of a child with special needs will add an element to any divorce case that must be addressed.
For purposes of this article, the term “special needs” may include a large number of items for a child; anything from a child diagnosed with the Autism Spectrum Disorder, to a child who may have a non-life threatening ongoing medical condition that requires regular attention. When crafting a parenting plan for any child, it is vital to address all of the child’s current needs and it is even more important to do so if a child already manifests special needs.
First, it may be necessary to articulate whether one or both parents will be charged with making the medical or educational decisions for the child. One parent may be more educated on the child’s issues than the other, or one parent may have chosen not to be involved in the child’s decisions. In situations like this, the law allows for Ultimate Decision-Making, which gives one of the parents the right to be the “tie-breaker” in the event of a disagreement on how to best proceed on the child’s behalf.
When crafting a timesharing schedule for a child with special needs, it is important to consider how the parties will get the child to and from school, therapy, and doctor appointments. It may also be necessary to discuss approved child care providers, to insure that the child is never left with someone who is incapable of providing adequate care.
Additionally, the child’s needs may require additional costs for medical or therapeutic treatment. It will be important to address how the expenses will be handled going forward. This starts with addressing health insurance for the child and determining whether any public assistance is available. To the extent the various therapies or medical requirements have to be paid out of pocket, it is important to set forth an agreement as to who will pay the various expenses and
whether the other parent will reimburse some or all of such expenses. These types of expenses are typically addressed over and above the typical monthly child support that is paid. Depending on the child’s prognosis, it may also be necessary to consider whether child support beyond the age of 18 from one or both parents would be required.
There is not one single answer on how to address a child’s special needs in divorce. Each case will present unique circumstances and requirements for each child. As with all divorces, it is important to bring all of the necessary information to your counsel and to obtain sound legal advice on how to protect both parties and the child from the potential negative ramifications of a divorce.
DALE KLAUS and REUBEN DOUPÉ are partners at Klaus Doupé, a leading law firm in Naples focusing solely on marital and family law. Visit www.Marital-FamilyLaw.com or call 239-403-9800.