Few things more difficult than going through divorce and having a child with special needs. The issues of child custody, support and property division are significantly more complex to negotiate. Couples must consider their child’s specific condition and how daily life will change for them and their child.
Best Interest of the Child Guides Support and Care
Currently, Pennsylvania child support guidelines do not take into consideration the extra expenses of a special needs child. Additional costs for medical procedures, specialized assistance or care, adaptive equipment, specialized diet or nutritional needs, adult day services or some type of respite care are some of the extra costs. Obviously, some of these costs are unknown at the time you are going through a divorce, making it difficult to account for them in your marital settlement agreement.
As with all custody cases, the most important thing is the best interest of the child. The same questions applies an all child custody and support issues. For example, who should be the primary custodian, how much time should the partial custodian have with the child? If both parents agree on these issues, it’s possible to reach custody agreement beneficial to the parents and the child.
Planning for the Child’s Future as an Adult
The marital settlement agreement must also look at the future. Consider what will happen when the child graduates from high school, then turns 21. Divorcing parents must decide who will have guardianship. It’s critical to prepare a special needs trust. Will the child be placed in a Community Living Home or a state run facility, what employment opportunities are available, are there day programs and continuing development of social skills?
One very important factor to take into consideration is how child support payments come into play in determining your child’s eligibility for SSI or medicare or other public benefits as both a minor and an adult. You certainly do not want any your child’s benefits interrupted or stopped because funds that considered as the child’s income. So a special needs trust can protect the public benefits that your child is receiving.
As a mediator I make sure parents understand all the options available to protect their child.
If you have any questions or would just like information about how Alpha’s mediation program may work for you, please reach out to us at Alpha Center for Divorce Mediation.
Michael Hughes, Esq. is an attorney-mediator with the Alpha Center for Divorce Mediation. He can reached at 800-310-9085 at firstname.lastname@example.org.