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How to Divorce with a Special Needs Child on Long Island

by | Aug 27, 2019 | Child Custody and Support NY, Child Support NY

Deciding to get a divorce is difficult, and sharing a special needs child with your ex-spouse can exacerbate every aspect of the situation. Here’s how you can navigate dissolving your marriage when you have a child with special needs and how to get help protecting your family as you close one chapter of your lives and open a new one.

Consider the Capacity of Each Parent to Care for a Special Needs Child

One parent will likely become the child’s primary custodian and the needs of the child play a significant role in determining who that parent should be. Evaluate the fitness of both you and your spouse to provide the type of care your child needs. For example, if one spouse works a job with erratic hours, that spouse may not have the ability to provide full-time care for a special needs child. Consider which parent can spend the most time with the child and/or provide the most comprehensive care.

Think About How Your Child’s Needs Affect Visitation

When one parent has primary custody of a child, the other parent typically has visitation. This means that the non-custodial parent has the right to spend time with the child, usually on a previously agreed upon day or date. With a special needs child, it’s important to factor in the non-custodial parent’s ability to provide care for a special needs child. The non-custodial parent needs to be able to provide for the child’s needs for the duration they have visitation and if they can’t, the visitation schedule should be amended or the non-custodial parent should work with a caregiver when the child is with them.

Calculate the Financial Burden of Your Child’s Medical Care and Other Expenses

Typical Long Island child custody formulas don’t account for children who have special needs. Special needs families typically have higher medical expenses, educational expenses, and may also incur costs for custom clothing, mobility equipment, and more. It’s important to work with a forensic accountant to determine the average annual expenses for your child and what future expenses can be expected. New York family courts work with couples who have special needs children to equitably distribute costs over and beyond what child support usually affords.

Consider the Needs of Your Child Well Into the Future

Your child’s needs will change as they grow, and with special needs children, they may not be ready to be independent at the age of 21 — the legal cutoff for child support payments. Do your best to estimate what your child will need well into the future, especially if you expect for them to remain dependent in some way throughout their lives.

Determine What You and Your Ex-Spouse Disagree On

If you and your ex-spouse agree on most or all of the various aspects of your divorce, you may be able to file an uncontested divorce. Even if you have a special needs child, if you’re in agreement on custody, property division, and other matters related to the dissolution of your marriage, you can likely avoid going to court. On the other hand, if you and your ex-spouse don’t agree, you may need to explore the possibility of a contested divorce and divorce litigation.

Evaluate the Benefit of Counseling During Your Divorce

Getting a divorce is challenging enough, but when you add in custody, visitation, and child support for a special needs child, things can quickly become overwhelming. Consider meeting with a counselor or therapist and enrolling your child in an appropriate counseling program to help process the divorce in a positive way. It’s even more important for parents to be calm, grounded, and neutral with a child who has special needs, but it’s unhealthy to keep your emotions in all the time. Working with a therapist can help your family heal during and after a divorce in a safe and controlled way.

Contact an Experienced Long Island Divorce Attorney

If you’re the parent of a special needs child and are considering getting a divorce, it’s critical that you speak with an experienced family law attorney on Long Island as soon as possible. Call us today for more information about divorcing with a special needs child or to schedule your free consultation at 631-923-1910.


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