Planning for a Special Needs Child as Part of Divorce or Parental Separation

Divorce is complicated.

When the spouses have a special needs child, it gets a a lot more complicated.

Parents of special needs children have to plan together for their child’s future … even if they won’t be together themselves.

In the specific context of the parents’ divorce or separation, the parents should know that child support obligations for a dependent child may continue beyond the age for children who don’t have special needs. Possibly indefinitely.

And that support may include significant health-related expenses that don’t apply to children without special needs.

Additionally, timesharing with a special needs child may involve significant expenses that don’t apply to a child without special needs.

Both support and access expenses should be addressed by the parents’ divorce or custody case.

Especially if a special needs child receives or will be eligible to receive benefits or government services related to their special needs, it may be advisable to establish a special needs trust to protect the child’s right to those benefits and to ensure compliance with the applicable law so that benefits and/or services are not inadvertently forfeited.

Additional matters to cover in such a trust are future housing, medical insurance and potential inheritances for the child.

Beyond the financial aspects, caregiving for a special needs child is more complex and demanding than for a child without special needs.

If responsibilities are going to be allocated, there should be a clear and comprehensive allocation of responsibilities.

If not, one parent should be designated as primary custodian and caregiver and be awarded sufficient parental responsibility and authority to provide appropriate care unfettered.

Designation of an alternate legal guardian should be made in the event that the primary caregiver dies or becomes unable to care for the special needs child. In appropriate cases, a legal guardian may be appointed for a special needs child who is an adult based on chronological age but nonetheless in need of a legal guardian.

A primary caregiver should maintain a care journal that captures the daily caregiving routine, to aid any successor guardian. It should include information about the child’s preferences and behaviors.

Read more in this Lexington [Kentucky] Herald-Leader article: Divorce planning for children with special needs.