Divorce, Child Custody and a Child with Special Needs
Divorce has the potential to completely uproot a child's sense of stability and security when child custody considerations (now titled decision making and parenting time under Illinois law) are not handled properly.
Raising a child under the best of circumstances is a challenging endeavor, and this responsibility is greatly increased when a couple has a child with special needs. In the event of divorce, deciding how to split parental responsibilities under these circumstances can be especially difficult due to the additional attention and/or medical care special needs children often require.
Further, special needs children often require some level of care for their entire lives that has direct implications on child support from both parents and is another issue that most divorced parents do not have to face.
Because of these additional complexities, divorcing parents with a special needs child should work out a parenting plan in consultation with an experienced divorce attorney who understands the short- and long- term concerns these parents need to address.
One of the greatest obstacles divorced parents are likely to face with a special needs child is the intense and frequent cooperation both parties will have to sustain to respond to the child's needs. Decisions related to education and health care are almost guaranteed to be quite complicated, and will necessitate consultation with various professionals to find the environment/treatment that is most beneficial for the child.
Additionally, parents are typically expected to maintain a higher degree of involvement and input than one would normally expect in order to better assess, and adjust as needed, learning and treatment approaches.
If one parent cannot commit to this level of involvement due to work or other obligations, agreeing to give the more available parent greater decision-making authority may be in the best interests of the child.
Courts make decisions on the allocation of parental responsibilities with the best interests of the child in mind — assessed using a list of factors — and must specifically look at the mental and physical health of all family members. However, even with these factors as a guide, the Court may not appreciate what would constitute the best needs of such a child. Moreover, the parents may need to help the Judge understand the specific issues the child is facing.
For example, special needs children often do poorly with frequent change, and equipping each parent's home with specialized medical/therapy devices may not be financially feasible. Thus, developing a schedule that allows the non-primary caregiver to have time with the child on regular basis, but also limits or eliminates overnights, may be necessary.
Further, the need for flexibility over parenting time is often greater with special needs children because of differing development cycles. Therefore, parents should be prepared to continually reassess whether additional/different accommodations are necessary for the child's well-being.
Finally, the structure of child support payments is likely to deviate from the norm for a special needs child because of the additional expenses that will regularly occur. While new child support guidelines went into effect July 1, a Judge is allowed to diverge from the standard amount if the physical, emotional or educational needs of the child require a change.
Specifically, extraordinary or additional medical expenses related to treating a child's disabling condition would likely move a Court to increase the monthly payment. Additionally, Illinois law permits a Court to order support past the age of 18 for children with disabilities, which could leave one or both parents obligated to provide support indefinitely.
Consult a Divorce Attorney
Negotiating custody arrangements is one of the most stressful parts of divorce, and special needs children make this process more complicated. Working with an experienced Rolling Meadows divorce attorney will likely give you insight into legal issues you did not consider, as well as long-term planning strategies. The Law Office of Nicholas W. Richardson, P.C. can provide the personalized and detailed assistance you and your family need.