Unique Considerations for Divorcing Parents of Special Needs Children

divorce with special needs children

Each year, millions of parents choose to end their marriage, which can have a profound effect on children. Divorce can be even more difficult for children with special needs and their parents. When the South Carolina family law courts look at custody and support agreements, there will be complications associated with determining what is in the best interests of the child.

What Is in the Best Interest of the Child?

The “best interests standard” is a common legal standard used in family law courts. Instead of automatically splitting custody or favoring one parent over another because of tradition, the court now considers what is in the child’s best interests.

This is particularly vital when it comes to children with special needs. In many divorce cases, parents may have a custody arrangement that has the child with one parent during the week and the other on weekends and one weekday. For a child with special needs such as autism, this might not be practical, and in fact, could be harmful to the child.

Not only should these arrangements be made so that they are most beneficial to the child’s emotional, physical, educational, and social needs, but they also need to consider the requirements for health care needs and other accommodations.

Unique Considerations When Divorcing with Special Needs Children

Managing a child with special needs can be a full-time job and divorce certainly complicates some of these issues. If you are divorcing your spouse and you have a special needs child, there are many unique factors that you will have to consider. These include:

  • What are your child’s functional and healthcare needs, now and in the future? How do you plan to manage those needs? How much will it cost? If you aren’t sure, you may want to retain the services of a life care specialists for an answer.
  • Divorce agreements need to specify which parent has the authority to make decisions on medical, education, and other treatment needs, since these choices will be more frequent and have greater consequences for a special needs child.
  • Has your visitation schedule considered the emotional and physical needs of your child? Does it also consider the more frequent appointments that your child might have with professionals that help with their care?
  • Have you already maximized your access to public benefits for your child? Is your eligibility for these benefits going to change with your divorce? If so, how?
  • Many children with disabilities and special needs are eligible for Social Security benefits. There may be additional benefits available when they reach the age of 18.
  • How are you going to structure a child support agreement so that it covers your child’s needs and is fair? Have you included all relevant costs and benefits received in your calculations?
  • Even if you reach an agreement with your spouse about custody and support, the court may require that you set up a special needs trust.
  • When a special needs trust holds child support payments, there are requirements for the establishment and funding of the trust.
  • Even an adult child may be eligible to receive child support payments if they have qualifying disabilities or special needs.
  • Parents of special needs children typically should avoid directly naming a child as a beneficiary on a life insurance policy. A large payout could jeopardize your child’s future benefits.

Speak with an Experienced South Carolina Family Law Attorney

If your child has special needs and you are considering divorce in South Carolina, there are a lot of bases to cover. Most children are resilient, but you will need to take extra care and concern with each decision in this case. You and your spouse will face ongoing challenges, and it’s best if you can reach an agreement on the major issues before you file for divorce.

Whether you can agree or not, the courts are going to consider what in the best interests of your child first, so you should do everything possible to safeguard the rights of your family. The experienced and compassionate family law attorneys at The Cate Law Firm understand these complex issues and will work on behalf of you and your child.

Contact our Spartanburg office now at 864-585-4226 or reach us online to schedule an initial consultation.


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