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Divorce When You’re a Parent of a Special-Needs Child

Florida child support guidelines

Being the parent of a child with special needs brings with it a blend of challenges and joys. This intense experience can make sustaining a marriage even more challenging, and studies have shown that couples raising a special-needs child tend to divorce at a higher rate than do other couples. Due to the complexity and expense of raising a child with physical or developmental special needs, parents of such children have more to consider when divorcing than do parents of nondisabled children. Below are a few issues to discuss with your attorney when going through a divorce as a parent of a special needs child.

Ensure that child support takes public benefits into consideration

Florida courts calculate child support payments according to the guidelines laid out in the Florida Statutes, section 61.30. Courts are usually required to award an amount within 5% of the result of the formula contained in that law. However, when a child has extraordinary medical or educational expenses, or extraordinary costs associated with caring for a special needs child, courts can go beyond the amounts prescribed by the formula. If you plan to be the primary caretaker of your child, take the time to create a thorough budget that accounts for all the medical, therapeutic, and household expenses involved in raising your child. Your attorney can help you provide documentation of these expenses to present to the court in support of your request.

As a result of his or her disability, your child may be entitled currently, or will be entitled in the near future, to public benefits such as Supplemental Security Income. Ensure that a calculation of child support takes these benefits into account, so that the child is not determined to be ineligible for these benefits due to the amount of child support received.

Consider creating a trust for your child’s care going forward

Most parents do not have to plan to support their children financially throughout their lifetimes. However, if you have a child with special needs, you and your co-parent will need to determine where your child will live, who will provide their care, and the source of funds for this care as they age. These discussions are important to have prior to finalizing a divorce, as it may be necessary to set aside funds at the time of the division of property for this future care. Many parents decide to create a special needs trust, which enables the child to receive additional financial support while also remaining eligible for public benefits.

Create a plan for staying in close communication

Parents of all children must remain in contact after divorce, in order to exchange custody, coordinate holiday schedules, and discuss their children’s education. Parents of special-needs children have an even greater need to keep in touch, as these children often have more frequent appointments with doctors and therapists, requiring parents to coordinate their schedules more carefully. If frequent direct communication with your co-parent seems destined to devolve into conflict, consider using electronic methods, such as the program Our Family Wizard, or a shared Google Calendar, to coordinate schedules.

If you are facing divorce in Florida, seek legal help from a professional who will handle your case with compassion, dedication, and thorough knowledge of the law by contacting the Pensacola family law attorney Crystal Collins Spencer for a consultation, at 850-912-8080, or at our offices in Sandestin (850-424-6683) or Fort Walton Beach (850-200-4652).

316 S. Baylen Street, Suite 520
Pensacola, FL 32502
Telephone: 850.912.8080 Fax: 850.912.8028
246 Tupelo Courtyard
Sandestin, FL 32550
Telephone: 850.424.6683
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