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How Should Divorce, Child Support, And Custody Be Handled for Parents of Special Needs Children?

Minor children and adult children may need special help because of a physical, cognitive, or emotional disability. Caring for a child with Down Syndrome, Asperger Syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, a traumatic brain injury, or other disorders can require constant attention and medical care.

Often one parent is required to stop working or to reduce their hours to take care of the child. Children with special needs also may need to attend schools that can address their unique situation.

The two key issues that family lawyers need to advise parents of special needs children about are child support and child conservator agreements. Parents also need to address other issues such as who will take care of the children when the parents are gone, what are the long-term needs of the children, and other issues.

Parents of children with special needs often need to consult with trust and estate planning lawyers in addition to family lawyers. Parents should also think through how a divorce will impact their children. All children are hurt when their parents need to end a marriage but special needs children may have unique difficulties in coping with a divorce.

Child Support for Special Needs Children

Normally the amount of child support a parent pays the other parent is based on Texas child support guidelines which calculate the amount of child support based on the income and resources of the parents and the number of minor children in the family.

Generally, parents do not have a duty to pay child support for adult children. If there is a valid reason for deviating from the child support guidelines such as caring for a special needs child, the court will examine many factors including the following:

  • The medical costs including physical therapy, rehabilitative therapy, the cost of medical devices such as braces or wheelchairs, and the costs of medications. Therapy may also be needed to help the child speak, perform daily activities, and attend school
  • The costs for psychiatric and psychological counseling
  • Educational expenses. If there are not suitable public school accommodations, then the parents will likely need to pay for a private school which can be very costly.
  • Day care and child care expense so someone can supervise the child while both parents are at work or unable to take care of the child
  • Other expenses. For example, some children with a disability are more comfortable if they have a family pet

The basic rule in all child support cases is to do what is in the best interest of the child.

An experienced attorney will do more than analyze what the support order should be. The order should be made part of the court record so that if the parent obligated to pay the money fails to do so, that enforcement proceedings can force the payments to be made.

Generally, unless there is a change in the condition of the special needs child, the support order cannot be modified unless there is a valid change in condition of the parent’s income. Special needs expenses may very well be more expensive as the child ages.

Either or both parents may be ordered to pay child support for an adult child if the adult, someone over 18, cannot reasonably support himself/herself. The court will normally appoint a guardian for the disabled child to receive the support payment.

Payments can be made to an adult child with a disability if he/she is mentally able to handle the money. Support payments for an adult special needs child require that disability must have begun prior to the child’s 18th birthday.

A family lawyer should also review how governmental benefits such as social security disability income can affect a child support award – and vice-versa.

Child Custody and Visitation for Special Needs Children

Who should be the managing conservator and the physical conservator and how vacations and holidays are handled is often a much more difficult decision for parents of special needs children.

  • Special needs children often need to be away from home more so they can get the care they need.
  • Decisions, sometimes even life and death decisions, do need to be made about the child’s health, education, and emotional needs.
  • The homes of special needs children may need to be constructed or improved to fit the child’s needs. Shifting the child from one parent’s home to another is often more difficult for special needs children than other children.
  • Special transportation buses and vehicles may be needed to transport the child

Generally, for special needs children, a lot more flexibility is required in decision making, in travel schedules, in time spent with the child than applies for children who don’t have special needs.

Contact a Respected Texas Family Lawyer Today

Caring for a child after a divorce or separation requires a lot of planning and respect for everyone’s needs. Caring for a special needs child is even more complicated. An experienced Texas family law attorney understands the challenges.

To get help now please call us at 281-972-4386 to make an appointment with Scott M. Brown & Associates. Our firm has offices in Angleton, Pearland, and League City.

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