Mom with special needs child laughing together while playing in the living room - divorce and child custody concept.

Going through a divorce is challenging enough. But when you are parting ways with your spouse, the process can be more complicated when you share a child with special needs. A special needs child is a child who has been determined to have a physical, developmental, emotional, behavioral, or sensory disability and may require certain accommodations or specialized care. In such cases, it’s crucial to give careful consideration to custody arrangements and child support when structuring a divorce settlement to help ensure your child’s needs are met.

Negotiating Child Support When Your Child Has Special Needs

The child support guidelines in California ensure a child’s basic needs are met. But while they provide for food, clothing, and shelter, they don’t factor in the additional costs and expenses that can be associated with raising a special needs child. Under California law, courts may order additional child support for a special needs child, depending upon their specific medical and educational requirements.

Additional costs that may be factored into child support for a special needs child can include the following:

  • Medical care and treatment
  • Medical equipment and medication
  • Physical, occupational, or speech therapy
  • Costs of counseling
  • Physical accommodations
  • The costs of modifications to the home or vehicle
  • Special dietary costs
  • Special education
  • In-home care
  • Respite care

Child support payments are typically made by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent until the child turns 18 — or 19 if they are attending high school full time. However, if your child is not capable of being self-supporting and will require care as an adult, a California court may issue an order specifying that both parents continue to provide support to their disabled child throughout their lifetime. California law does not limit the amount of time long-term disability child support can be paid for the care of a disabled adult child.

Custody of Special Needs Children

Special needs children have unique issues that may require specific care and attention. While parents are free to reach an agreement regarding child custody outside of court, a judge will issue an order based on the best interests of the child if parents cannot settle the issue. In evaluating what is best for you special needs child after divorce, the court will consider a number of factors, including but not limited to the relationship between the parents, any instances of abuse or neglect, the health and safety of the child, and the ability of each parent to care for the child.

In child custody cases involving a special needs child, determining the child’s best interests can be more complex. A judge must take several crucial factors into consideration when deciding a custody arrangement. For instance, they will evaluate which parent’s school district can provide the child with the educational programming they need and the socialization opportunities that the child will have. They will also consider the child’s healthcare needs and whether the child requires ongoing medical support.

A custody schedule should be specifically tailored based on the child’s needs — a child with special needs may not always be comfortable traveling between homes. In situations where a child may have difficulty transitioning, it may be better for the child for one parent to have primary custody and the other to have visitation rights. In addition, if the child will be spending time in both parents’ homes, each must be equipped with any necessary modifications to ensure it is accessible and comfortable for the child.

Alimony in Divorce with Special Needs Child

Spousal support, also referred to as alimony, may be granted to a financially dependent spouse in a divorce with the expectation that they will become self-supporting after a certain amount of time. However, caring for a special needs child can often be a full-time job — and this must be considered when issuing an award of alimony to a custodial parent. Unlike child support, alimony is not intended to be for the purpose of childcare, but it can be used to provide monetary support to the child’s primary caregiver. Significantly, a spouse who will be caring for a special needs child may not be able to seek full time employment outside of the home — this can be a critical factor in determining alimony.

Contact an Experienced Fresno Divorce and Family Law Attorney

If you are considering divorce and have a child with special needs, it’s essential to have the representation of an attorney who understands your unique circumstances and can work to achieve the best possible outcome in your case. With more than 20 years of experience, the Law Offices of Rick D. Banks offers clients compassionate counsel for a wide variety of family law cases — including divorce, custody, and support matters involving children with special needs. To schedule a no-obligation consultation, call (559) 222-4891.