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Specialty tag(s): Divorce, Child Custody

Divorce Tips for Parents with Children Who Have Special Needs

Jasmine Avery | May 24, 2022

As a parent going through divorce, your focus isn’t “winning”; it is protecting the interests of your child and ensuring their needs are met. When you have a child with special needs, who may not be able to adequately advocate for themselves during a divorce, it is imperative that you are having intentional conversations about your child’s needs and plan for support.

With all the transitions and adjustments that take place prior to, during, and after a divorce, children can sometimes fall between the cracks while the adults are handling complex issues such as property division, spousal support, child support, and child custody. Here are a few tips for parents going through a divorce with a special needs child.

Communicate transparency regarding your child’s abilities

Chapter 154 of the Texas Family Code says that the Court will consider a child’s needs and special or extraordinary educational, health care, or other expenses in determining what support to order for the child in the suit. Therefore, as a parent, you will want to be honest and transparent about the status of your child’s physical, mental, and behavioral abilities or needs.

Organize and maintain all records

Throughout the divorce and even after the finalization of the divorce, there may be a need to revisit certain documents detailing the needs and extraordinary expenses of your child. During a divorce your attorney may ask you to fill out a budget with your monthly expenses, create a spreadsheet detailing health care costs, or deliver receipts of payments and debts regarding your child’s expenses.

To reduce stress and avoid delay, you should organize documents and records. For example, you may need email correspondence from the psychologist outlining treatment plans, receipts of hospital bills, statements regarding diagnosis, texts or emails between you and someone else discussing the status of the child, or correspondence from other professionals who are also aware of your child’s special educational needs. Any records that you have will be very helpful to your attorney in discussing and negotiating specific parenting plans or child support on your behalf.

Have conversations with providers

Although your attorney is a great resource for you during this difficult time of divorce, the attorney may not specialize in the area of support your child needs. During the divorce, you should be having regular conversations with the current professionals in your child’s life: therapists, psychiatrists, behavioral specialists, school administrators, etc. In addition, you should consider consulting with a Board-certified Behavior Analyst to assist you in helping your child process this transition. Ask your child’s providers for progress reports and recommendations as to how your child best processes change and transitions. This will ensure that your child’s voice is heard and seen during the divorce.

Consider the need for indefinite support

Texas law does not normally order child support for children over the age of 18, unless special circumstances warrant a variation to the guidelines of support. The Texas Family Code gives the Court the authority to order support for a child older than 18 if the child requires substantial care and personal supervision because of a mental or physical disability and the disability existed on or before the child turns 18.

If you have a child with special needs and they have not turned 18 yet, you will want to discuss with your attorney the possible need for an indefinite child support order. This does not mean that child support will go on forever, but that you aren’t certain what the status or capabilities of the child will be when they reach the age of majority.

Lean into your support system

Divorce is a very sensitive and private life transition, so it is understandable that most will want to keep it between the parties involved. However, if you are a parent with a special needs child, one of the most important things you can do during this transition is to lean into a strong community.

In order to protect the interests of your children with special needs you need to envision what you want life to look like after the divorce. Come to your attorney with this vision in mind and work together to create a plan that will ensure your child’s future is secure and that they will have the safest transition possible.

To learn more, please contact Jasmine Avery at (512) 454-8791.

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