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Divorce In Florida And Children With Special Needs

Author: Florida Women's Law Group
Date: Sep 27 2021

 Divorce in Florida and Children with Special Needs

We have been contacted by women who are seeking to divorce their spouse and they have a child with special needs.  The conversation usually starts with their concern over the future care of their child and if their spouse will be able to provide the level of care needed when they are no longer together.  Divorce is hard, divorcing with children is harder and divorcing with a child with special needs is even harder.

In a divorce where a special needs child is involved the issues of custody, child support and alimony are more complex and need extra attention.  It is important for your divorce attorney to make sure that you and your child’s needs are provided for now and into the future.

Parenting Plans for Special Needs Families

In a divorce with children a parenting plan is developed that outlines the care of the children and the responsibilities of each parent regarding the children.  This plan becomes more intricate when there is a child with special needs.  It needs to provide detailed information for the continued care and well-being of the child with special needs.

It is important that your attorney have a complete understanding of the needs and interests of your child.  A good place to start is to provide your attorney with a “day-in-the-life” of your child.  What goes into the daily care of your child with detailed instructions, including:  medications, dietary requirements, education, special equipment, transportation, treatments and therapy, medical care, physical adaptions, communication and behavior management.

Other information that is beneficial to your attorney:

  • Who will be the custodial parent?
  • Regarding the needs of the child, where do both parents agree and disagree?
  • What would be the ideal custody and visitation schedule?
  • Will child support payments be needed past the age of 18?
  • Will care be handled by anyone other than parents (other family members, nurses, caregivers, new partners or spouses?)
  • Will child need care and guardianship as an adult?

Child Support and Alimony

The cost of raising a child to adulthood is expensive, for the special needs child the cost of care is significantly more.  The typical child support calculation does not include all the extra expenses that come with special needs.  Child support will need to address not only the typical costs of child rearing but also the added expense of special medical care, therapy, equipment, education, activities and medications.  If the child needs full-time care it may mean that primary caregiver is unable to work and the effect on their income should be considered when determining alimony.

Custody and Visitation

Divorce is difficult for children but can be especially difficult for special needs children who need consistency and structure.  When it comes to physical custody it is important for the parents to put the needs of the child first.  If the child requires physical adaptations to the home, it may not be feasible for both parents to provide that in their living arrangements.  The switch between parents and homes may prove to be too much for the special needs child and an appropriate visitation schedule will need to be developed that is the least disruptive.

Transition Into Adulthood

During the divorce process it needs to be addressed if the child will continue to need assistance into adulthood.  In Florida, child support terminates when the child reaches 18 or graduates from high school.  This same rule may not apply to a special needs child who will be unable to take care of themselves after 18.  If life-long care is needed, then these expenses to be included in the divorce settlement. 

When determining long-term financial support, the child’s eligibility for public assistance benefits as both a minor and adult needs to be considered.  A special needs trust can be established that provides financially for the child without jeopardizing their public benefits. 

Divorcing with a special needs child can be challenging.  If both parents remain focused on their child and providing the best future for them it can help foster an amicable divorce and co-parenting environment.  Fighting with your future ex and dragging out the divorce will not only take time and money but will negatively impact your child.

At Florida Women’s Law Group, we have the experience, resources and skills to provide you with empathetic and compassionate legal services.  We are here to provide legal advice and assistance you may need.   We represent women just like you to help you get through this and onto a better and happier life.

Florida Women’s Law Group