divorce of parents with special needs children in mobile alabama

Challenges for Divorcees with Special Needs Children in Auburn, Alabama

Getting divorced is a highly stressful process, even under the best of circumstances. But when divorcing spouses are also the parents of a disabled child, there are several other issues that need to be considered as well. This makes the process even more trying, and it is important for those who are facing the situation to be prepared for some of the unique issues that will need to be dealt with.

If you are facing a divorce in Auburn, Alabama or any of the nearby communities, you need an experienced attorney by your side to provide strong legal guidance and moral support during this difficult time. The Alsobrook Law Group has helped numerous clients through the divorce process, and we are ready to go to work for you. Call our office today at 334-737-3718 to schedule a free consultation.

Divorces for Couples with Special Needs Children in Auburn, AL

In Alabama, family courts prefer that both parents maintain an active role in the lives of their children after a divorce. Custody could be granted jointly to both parents, to only one parent, or both parents may be given joint legal custody (i.e., authority to make important decisions regarding the child) with only one parent receiving physical custody. This is all determined based on what the court believes is in the best interests of the child, and the court considers a number of factors in making this determination.

Even in cases when one parent receives sole physical custody, the other parent is usually given liberal visitation rights. Exceptions could be made of course if there is a history of abuse or other reasons to believe that granting visitation to the non-custodial parent would not be in the child’s best interests.

Child support in Alabama is determined using the “income shares” model. In a typical case, this would combine the incomes of the two parents and estimate the amount that an intact two-parent family would most likely spend on the child(ren). Then the amounts are split proportionately between the parents based on their incomes.

When the couple has a child with special needs, things are not always resolved in the same manner as with a traditional divorce case. Additional factors need to be considered in determining issues such as child custody, visitation, and child support, for example. These may include:

  • The Child’s Ability to Travel: A typical child custody and visitation schedule could call for the child to have visitation time with the noncustodial parent on a weekly basis (often on weekends). This, however, may not be an ideal schedule for a child with special needs. Some special needs children are upset by frequent transitions, and it might work better to create a schedule that involves fewer visits that last for a longer period of time.
  • Special Needs During Visitation: Parenting plans will need to be very detailed, and with each transition from one parent to the other, accommodations will have to be made for the child’s diet, medications, behavior management, adaptation to new surroundings, and similar issues. In some cases, one parent may not be aware of some of these issues, and they may need to be educated on what has to be done during each visit.
  • Additional Medical Needs: A special needs child usually has ongoing medical needs that need to be addressed, such as medications, therapies, and doctor visits. Since health insurance does not always cover 100% of these expenses, child support may need to be modified in order to account for this.
  • Special Educational Needs: There may be additional educational expenses as well, such as the cost of special schooling and/or home tutoring.
  • Eligibility for Government Benefits: Many children with special needs receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid to help with expenses. Child support and alimony payments will need to be structured in a way that does not jeopardize the benefits the child is receiving. In some cases, it might make sense to set up a special needs (OBRA) trust to address this issue.
  • Child Support Termination: In most cases, a parent’s obligation to pay child support ends when the child becomes an adult. This may not be true with a special needs child. With disabled children, the child support obligation may continue into adulthood.

As noted above, children with special needs such as physical limitations, autism, health issues, educational needs, and developmental problems require a parenting plan that causes the least possible destruction to the child’s daily routine. Parenting plans for disabled children must offer consistent, stable care. The parent who has primary custody needs to be able to meet the physical needs, medical routines and therapies, educational requirements, and have the understanding and skill to handle the child’s disability.

Further, a plan that details visitation with the non-custodial parent should take these matters into account when scheduling overnight or prolonged visits. The non-custodial parent may have to agree to limited visitations to avoid disruption, depending on the severity of the child’s condition.

Careful Consideration of Medical Needs and Expenses

Special needs children typically need specific health care or treatments, such as:

  • Speech, physical, or behavioral therapies, among others
  • Medicine plans and assistive devices, such as a wheelchair
  • Additional treatments or surgical procedures

Medical insurance can cover a substantial amount of these expenses. However, it can be hard to pay for these services after dividing assets and finances. Therefore, parents must plan for how they will continue to manage these bills and pay for the services required by their child.

Besides the cost of this care, parents will need to plan on how they will arrive at decisions regarding the medical care needs of their child. The parents must agree on a meticulous and comprehensive plan regarding how to make the medical decisions for their special needs child. It is essential to decide on aspects such as emergencies, routine supervision, transporting the child to and from medical facilities, and necessary emotional, physical, and occupational therapy sessions. Other critical matters to decide include health insurance coverage and financial facets pertaining to the child’s care.

Such considerations must allow each parent to assume some responsibility to prevent an individual parent from feeling overwhelmed with the care necessary for the disabled child. Further, educational decisions must be included in these plans to allow parents to provide the child with the ability to develop into a well-adjusted adult.

Visitation Arrangements in Auburn, AL

Shared parenting, unfortunately, may not be as effective with special needs children. For instance:

  • When a disabled child has equipment that they require at home, such as wheelchairs and feeding tubes, it can be challenging to move everything back and forth in a child custody arrangement. Doubles of everything at both households can be prohibitively expensive.
  • Autistic children might find transitioning between each parents’ house incredibly unsettling if they depend on a routine.
  • In such cases, arranging parenting time, visitation time, and dividing parenting duties might be tricky. Therefore, Auburn, AL parents must determine the most suitable arrangement for their family after careful consideration.

Financial Support in Auburn

In Auburn, AL, standard child support regulations do not account for the extra costs associated with caring for a child with disabilities. A special needs child likely has increased expenses for medical treatments, equipment, medicines, services, nutrition, and rest time for caregivers.

The management of a disabled child’s care may be a full-time endeavor for the custodial parent, which must be taken into account for spousal support. On the other hand, if neither parent wants to be involved in caring for the child, assistance must be sought from relatives or hired caregivers. What help is necessary, and how will the expenses be financed?

Child support often ends when a child reaches the age of 18 or 21 years. However, special needs children may have financial support needs throughout their lifetime. Also, parents must understand how child support payments influence government benefits programs, such as Medicaid or Social Security.

Work with a Seasoned Auburn, AL Divorce Attorney

For divorcees with special needs children, there are numerous challenges that need to be dealt with. Each situation is unique, and you need a skilled advocate in your corner who understands these issues and is committed to looking out for your rights and interests and the best interests of your child(ren). In Auburn, Opelika, and the surrounding communities, contact Alsobrook Law Group today for assistance. Call our office at 334.737.3718 or message us online to schedule a free consultation with a member of our legal team.