Divorce and Children with Special Needs

Divorce and Children with Special NeedsEvery child is special. From the time parents first learn they will be welcoming a child, preparations and plans for the child’s future begin. Sometimes, parents find that their child requires special care and attention because of any number of disabilities. While these disabilities may not limit a child’s potential and certainly do not limit the parents’ love, they may require additional focus, especially during and after a divorce. This post will explore some of the special concerns parents of children with disabilities may need to keep in mind during and after a Florida divorce.

Consider Expert Assistance

Some children with disabilities may have trouble adjusting to the dynamics divorce brings. Do not be afraid to share your concerns about how your child is coping with divorce with various care providers, including traditional medical providers and mental health professionals. Even occupational therapists may benefit from having some insight into the struggles your child may be dealing with. If your child does not have a regular mental health specialist, that does not mean that he or she will not benefit from one during divorce.

Depending on your circumstances, you may want to work with your spouse to enlist the help of an experienced special needs planning attorney that can help make sure you and your spouse and each of your attorneys are engaged in planning appropriately for the potential future needs of your child. Even in marriages where communication between spouses is difficult, this can be an effective way of ensuring your child’s best interests are being met while you work to negotiate a divorce settlement.

Public Benefits

Many special needs require an extensive amount of costly medical care. Often, this care must be supplemented by publicly available benefits. If your child receives public benefits to help offset the cost of his or her medical care, you may need to take that into consideration when determining things like child custody and support payments. You will also need to keep this in mind when engaging in estate planning and exploring ways to ensure your child receives continued care should you and your spouse pass away. The way you structure your settlement and other forms of financial assistance for the child can have a significant impact on his or her eligibility for public benefits. Additionally, many laws mandate that parents be financially responsible for some children with disabilities, which means that a parent’s financial resources could also be partially attributed to a child and impact the child’s eligibility for public benefits.

Social Security Benefits

If a child meets certain requirements, namely being determined to be disabled before turning 22, he or she could be eligible to receive part of a parent’s social security benefits. This is true for both social security retirement payments as well as a parent’s social security disability benefits. If a child is eligible for these benefits, it typically does not impact the amount the parent is entitled to. However, this could have an impact on the child’s tax liability as well as your own.

Life Insurance and Retirement Plans

These fall into the category of estate planning concerns, too. Many parents name their children as beneficiaries on life insurance policies as well as other retirement plans. While doing so can certainly provide much needed financial resources in your absence, it can also significantly impact a child’s eligibility for public benefits as discussed above. It may be more beneficial for you to name a special needs trust as beneficiary for these assets. This is one reason why it is often necessary to involve an experienced estate planning or special needs planning attorney in a divorce where there are children with disabilities.

Custody Concerns

Some disabilities require a structured environment that one parent may not be able to readily provide. For instance, if a child requires special medical equipment or adaptations in a living environment, living in an apartment or other accommodation may not be amenable to these needs. Both parents need to recognize their own limitations and work together to make sure that a child’s needs are put first. This may mean being open to custody arrangements that limit your options, at least until living arrangements are worked out accordingly. This is often a hard pill to swallow for any parent, but it can be especially difficult for parents of children with special needs. It is important to remain focused on meeting the child’s needs first, and then addressing your own. Being selfish in your demands when it comes to your child is likely to have a negative impact on his or her  ability to handle the divorce as well as the child’s relationship with you.

Maintain Contact with Your Attorney

In many situations, divorce settlements include child custody arrangements that can be modified. In fact, some parents even plan to modify an initial agreement after a certain period of time or after certain circumstances occur. Your attorney is in the best position to advocate for you in those situations as they are already intimately familiar with the details of your case.

Divorce is an experience that is unique to each person going through it. There is no template to follow, and even the best laid plans can easily fall apart if you are caught unprepared. An experienced Florida divorce attorney who focuses on working with clients facing divorce can be an extremely important asset to you. Not only is he or she familiar with the Florida court system and the various laws regulating Florida divorce, but a divorce attorney also understands the unique needs of diverse clients, including those facing concerns over children with special needs. These situations present distinct obstacles, but they are not insurmountable, and the right attorney can help you understand all of your options as well as connect you with additional resources that can help you navigate your Florida divorce. If you are the parent of a child with special needs and considering a Florida divorce or have already made the difficult decision to pursue divorce, contact Scott J. Stadler to schedule a consultation and find out more about what the process may mean for you.