Divorce and child custody can be particularly complex when the separating couple has a minor child with special needs.
For many divorcing and separating parents of special needs children, not only are they new to the law governing divorce and child custody, but also the complex patchwork quilt of state and federal laws that may impact their special needs child’s long-term financial and legal future, into their adulthood …
And the special measures, far beyond the Individual Education Plan (IEP) their child may have, that they, as parents of special needs children, may need to take to protect their special needs children’s long-term legal and financial interests, into their special needs adult life.
This means that these parents have a lot to learn, more than most divorcing and separating parents. And a lot to do.
As far as the divorce or separation itself, child support is, of course, part and parcel of it if there are minor children, and most divorcing and separating parents know that. But many divorcing and separating parents are fuzzy on the particulars of child support.
Many divorcing and separating parents in Florida know that the obligation to support a child generally ends at the age of eighteen, and that the amount of child support is based upon statutory guidelines. True enough.
But what they usually do not know is that, where divorcing and separating parents in Florida have a special needs child, there are a couple of special twists to child support law.
First, the obligation to support a child who is dependent, such as a special needs child, may extend beyond the child’s eighteenth or nineteenth birthday or completion of high school, indeed, indefinitely. The child’s dependency must be the result of physical or mental incapacities from childhood.
Second, the amount of the child support obligation for a special needs child may deviate from the amount provided for in the child support guidelines. A greater amount of support may be awarded based upon the intact family’s preexisting spending to meet the child’s special needs.
Where the divorcing or separating parents of a special needs child have not done any special needs planning for their special needs child, their divorce or separation doubles as an opportunity to learn about special needs planning for their special needs child and to undertake some measures for the protection of their special needs child’s long-term financial and legal interests, into their adult lives with special needs.
Care and treatment for a special needs child over their lifetime can be quite expensive. It is never too early in their special needs child’s life for their parents to :
- agree on and jointly designate formally a guardian for their special needs child in the event that both parents should die or otherwise be unable to care for their special needs child
- consider seeking out government benefits available to their special needs child
- consider ensuring that no gifts or inheritances pass directly to their special needs child, which could jeopardize their special needs child’s access to government benefits, such as Medicaid
- consider establishing a special needs trust for their special needs child, to provide for their special needs child’s supplemental needs into their adulthood, without jeopardizing any government benefits their special needs child may receive, such as Medicaid