Divorce can be much more difficult for parents of a child with special needs. On top of the common divorce issues to sort out, the child’s particular needs must be included in divorce arrangements and future planning.
Discussions on topics like child custody, visitation, child support, and alimony can be more legally and emotionally complex with a special needs child.
Here are some legal issues to prepare for if your divorce involves a special needs child, and how to help ensure your child’s welfare after your divorce.
Child Custody and Visitation with Special Needs Child
It is ideal for both divorcing parents to create a parenting plan together that thoroughly accounts for their child’s special needs. In the best interests of the child, custody arrangements must factor in these additional considerations:
- The child’s mental or emotional capacity to handle this major change in the family
- The child’s readiness to move back and forth between parents, and their safety while making trips
- How childcare needs must be met in each household.
If you are seeking child custody in a contested case, you will want to show the court — via your proposed parenting plan and other evidence — that you are capable of being the custodial parent of your special needs child. You’ll need to demonstrate that:
- You are deeply familiar with your child’s specific needs, routines, schedules and appointments, and management strategies.
- Your daily routine allows you to provide the attention and care that the child needs every day. Often, this can mean full-time parenting at home.
- You are prepared to attend to the particular healthcare, education, and social needs of your child.
- You are able to preserve any public or private benefits for your special needs child.
- Your post-divorce home can accommodate your child’s personal space.
- You have a plan for transitioning to post-divorce living that creates the least disruption in your child’s life. This includes your new address; proximity to the child’s school, therapy, and other appointments; and adjusting to a new social environment (e.g. friends and neighbors).
- You are open to co-parenting with your former spouse, which is usually deemed essential to your child’s best interests.
- You are open to visitation arrangements that create the least disruption in your child’s life.
- You have a plan for the child’s long-term care and legal guardianship when they turn 18.
The court also looks favorably on parents who have set up legal strategies and estate plans for their child’s future. Examples of these strategies are special needs trust, life insurance, long-term care insurance, and gifting plans.
Child Support for Special Needs Child in Colorado
Colorado’s child support determination is proportional to each parent’s income. The court also takes into account the child-rearing costs shouldered by each parent, and those include care expenses for a special needs child.
Divorcing parents of a special needs child should consider the child’s eligibility for governmental benefits such as Supplemental Security Income or Medicaid.
Child support payments may be included in the government’s “means tested” computation, which means monetary child support might reduce the child’s chances of receiving benefits. One strategy around this is to opt for in-kind child support. Such strategies are best discussed with a lawyer who is experienced in Colorado Family Law and ideally, a financial adviser familiar with Social Security rules.
How Long Does Child Support Last for a Disabled Child?
How long does child support last for a disabled child? Typically, a Colorado child support order remains in force until the child turns 19, but it can last beyond that if the child has a physical or mental disability. In this case, the support will go on for as long as the court decides that it is needed, or until disability ends.
In some cases, especially when a child’s special needs are expected to last for a long time, the court may order one parent to keep a life insurance policy that covers child support beyond the policyholder’s death.
Other Divorce Considerations Involving a Special Needs Child
Both parents should plan for the following as part of their divorce discussions:
- Immediate arrangements for the child while the dissolution of marriage is underway, such as where the child will stay if one parent moves out, and how caretaking responsibilities are divided during the divorce proceedings
- The long-term care for the child in the event that one or both parents die
- How child custody and visitation arrangements could be affected if one parent remarries
- Each parent’s responsibilities in the event that the child’s condition worsens over time
- What healthcare or social services are available to help the child cope with the divorce transition.
Call Goldman Law for Legal Advice in Colorado
It is wise to talk to a lawyer regarding your divorce when a special needs child is involved. You’ll find many unique considerations that require thoughtful planning and strategy in navigating applicable laws.
The family law attorneys at Goldman Law are trusted for their perceptive and experienced handling of divorce cases like yours. Talk to us about your family situation. Call us at (303) 656-9529 or fill out our online contact form.