Going through a divorce is never easy, but it can be particularly difficult if you have a child with special needs. Having a special needs child can impact every aspect of your divorce – from marital property division to child custody, spousal support, and child support.
If you are the parent of a special needs child who is planning to file for divorce, you need a divorce lawyer who can provide you with the personalized legal representation you need. At Hardy Pence PLLC, we have handled several divorce cases involving special needs children over the years and have a deep understanding of the issues that are unique to these types of divorces.
Contact us today to discuss your case with one of our experienced West Virginia divorce lawyers.
Divorce and Special Needs Children – Key Issues to be Considered
Child Custody and Visitation
Caring for a child with special needs is completely different from caring for a normal child. Depending on whether your child has a physical, cognitive, behavioral, developmental, or sensory-related impairment, they might have unique needs that other children might not have. This is something you and your spouse need to keep in mind during child custody and visitation negotiations.
Moreover, as your child grows, their needs might change drastically. You – or your spouse – need to decide whether you have the means (financial and otherwise) to care for your child and make sure their needs are met.
It’s crucial to consult with doctors and mental health professionals to get a clear idea of your child’s current and future needs so that you can come up with an effective parenting plan that does not disrupt your child’s life too much.
It should also be noted that as your child grows, you might have to adjust your parenting plan to accommodate their changing needs. If the child custody and visitation order does not give you the leeway to adjust parental duties and visitation schedules, you have to request the court to modify the order.
Most special needs children require special medical care, mental health care, medications, and supplements. As a result, the custodial parent might have to spend a substantial amount of money (depending on whether these expenses are covered under the child’s health insurance plan) on a monthly basis. The court might take this factor into consideration while ordering spousal support.
Child support payments are meant to be paid only until the child in question turns 18. Once the child reaches the age of 18, the payments stop. This is not the case with special needs children. Depending on the severity of your child’s condition, the court might order you to pay child support even after your child turns 18.
Another important issue to be considered is that your child might qualify for public benefits like social security disability insurance and Medicaid. If you pay child support directly to your child, it might be considered an income and your child might lose their benefits as a result.
You need to consult with a skilled West Virginia divorce and special needs lawyer to figure out a way to support your child without affecting their right to receive state and federal benefits.
Depending on the nature and severity of your child’s condition, they might need the support of an adult all through their life. Keeping this in mind, you and your spouse should discuss between yourselves and decide who will become the legal guardian of the child once they turn 18.
If you fail to do so, the court will designate a guardian for your child once they turn 18. It could be someone who might not have been your choice for the role of guardian. It is why naming a guardian for your special needs child is so important.
You should also designate a successor guardian so that if you (or your spouse, depending on who the guardian is) become incapacitated or die, the successor you named can become your child’s guardian without requiring the court’s intervention.
Remember – the legal guardian has the right to make medical and financial decisions on behalf of the child. So, make sure you choose someone you can trust to be your successor guardian.
Special Needs Trust
Setting up a special needs trust is one of the best ways to provide for your child’s needs in the future. A special needs trust is relatively easy to manage and can be a source of reliable long-term income for your child.
Two of the most common types of special needs trust that can be set up for the benefit of special needs children and adults are first-party special needs trust and third-party special needs trust.
As mentioned above, any financial assistance provided directly to your child will be considered an income and affect their eligibility for public benefits. So, you should set up the trust in such a way that the funds in it will not be considered an income while determining your child’s eligibility to receive public benefits.
Importance of a Cordial Relationship between the Parents
Special needs children need parental love. The more involved the parents are in their child’s life, the happier the child will be. It’s why you and your ex-spouse should try to maintain a cordial relationship even after divorce.
You should consult with each other while making important decisions on your child’s behalf and find a way to be actively involved in your child’s life – regardless of the differences and disagreements you might have with each other.
Legal Help is Here from Compassionate West Virginia Family Law Attorneys
At Hardy Pence PLLC, we know that navigating a divorce when you have a special needs child can be extremely stressful. Our legal team has over 100 years of combined experience in handling divorce, child custody, alimony, child support, and guardianship-related cases.
We can handle your case with compassion and sensitivity, negotiate with your spouse’s attorney on your behalf, and go the extra mile to achieve an outcome that is in keeping with your child’s best interests.
Call us today at 304-345-7250 or use our online contact form to schedule a consultation with a West Virginia family law attorney from our firm.