As a parent of a child with special needs, you have all of the same issues, worries, and concerns as other parents if you’re getting divorced. You will need to address spousal support, division of property, child custody, and child support. However, when the best interests of a special needs child are of concern, you need to be sure you consider all care requirements now and in the future.
Custody and Visitation When Your Child Has Special Needs
If you and your spouse are divorcing, child custody and visitation will be decided based on the best interests of your child. The court looks at each divorce on a case-by-case basis and may consider the safety of the child, as well as:
- Each parent’s relationship with the child and involvement in the child’s daily activities
- Each parent’s ability to care for the child
- Each parent’s understanding of the child’s physical, emotional, intellectual, and other needs
- Each parent’s willingness to foster a relationship between the child and the other parent
For a child with special needs, the court may also consider how well your child transitions from one environment to the next, the need for consistency in your child’s life, and how a proposed custody and visitation arrangement will impact all aspects of the child’s life.
Child and Spousal Support
The child support agreement for a child with special needs must take into account financial factors that are not included in Virginia’s child support guidelines. Some of these additional costs may include:
- Medications and medical equipment
- Rehabilitation therapies such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech and language therapy
- Special diets
- Respite care
Spousal support should also be considered. One parent may be unable to work full time or unable to work at all in order to provide the necessary care for the child.
When Your Special Needs Child Turns 18
Most child support and custody agreements end when a child turns 18 or graduates from high school. This may be different for your family. Virginia law allows courts to continue child support orders after the age of 18 if all of the following are true:
- Your child is severely and permanently mentally or physically disabled
- Your child is unable to live independently and support himself
- Your child is residing in the home of the parent seeking or receiving child support
Even if child support payments continue, your child may have other needs, and you may also need to consider:
- Guardianship. Your child may be unable to make legal decisions independently and may need a legal guardian appointed.
- Creating a special needs trust. This may provide long-term financial stability for your child.
- Living arrangements. Your child may be unable to live independently and may need to continue living with a parent, in a group home, or with other support.
- Government benefits. Child support payments that continue once the child turns 18 could affect a child’s eligibility for government programs such as Supplemental Security Income.
Talk to a Virginia Divorce Lawyer Who Can Help
There is a lot to consider when you get divorced and even more when you’re caring for a child with special needs. You need a lawyer who will take the time to understand your child’s special needs, as well as what those needs mean on a daily basis and over your child’s lifetime.
Whether you are getting divorced now or seeking to modify an existing child support or custody agreement, we encourage you to contact our experienced family law attorneys as soon as possible. We understand that your divorce is emotional and that you are worried about the future. We provide compassionate representation, and we will do everything we can to help you achieve your goals and protect your child. Call us, or contact us via this website to learn more.