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Divorce with Children with Special Needs

Anytime a divorce involves children it makes the process more complicated and often more contentious. When one of those children is a child with special needs, it is important for both parties to understand the unique challenges they will face both during and after the divorce. Toward that end, a Murfreesboro custody lawyer at Bennett | Michael | Hornsby discusses divorce and custodyLa Vergne child support lawyer when a child with special needs is involved.

Custody and a Tennessee Divorce

When minor children are part of a divorce in Tennessee, the parties are required to submit a Parenting Plan to the court for approval. If the parents cannot agree to the terms of the Parenting Plan, the court will be forced to establish the terms. Part of any Parenting Plan includes deciding who will be the Primary Residential Parent (PRP) and who will be the Alternative Residential Parent (ARP). Tennessee no longer uses the term “custodial parent,” instead referring to the parent with whom the child lives most of the time as the PRP. The word “visitation” has also been replaced by the term “parenting time.” A parenting time schedule must also be included in the Parenting Plan accepted by the court. Finally, the Parenting Plan must address decision-making authority for important decisions such as where a child will go to school or what medical treatment a child will receive. 

How Is Divorce Different with a Child with Special Needs?

When you have a child with special needs, all of the typical issues involved in a divorce are further complicated by the unique needs of your child, including things such as:

  • The need for around-the-clock care.
  • Special educational requirements.
  • Occupational, physical, speech, and other therapy schedules.
  • Ongoing and future medical treatment needs.
  • The need for specialized equipment or accessibility needs inside the home.
  • The likelihood of the need for financial support beyond the age of majority.
  • The need to remain eligible for government assistance programs such as Medicaid.

Tips for A Divorce with a Child with Special Needs

 Having an experienced divorce attorney involved from the beginning is even more crucial when a divorce involves a child with special needs. Ideally, the parties can work through all the issues and reach a mutually agreeable Parenting Plan that avoids disputes; however, it is best to do this with a professional to reduce the likelihood of problems down the road. In addition, the following tips may help you get through a divorce when you have a child with special needs:

  • Consult with medical professionals. Both parents should have a clear understanding of the child’s current and anticipated future medical needs. Your child’s medical needs will impact everything from day-to-day parenting time arrangements to the cost of raising your child.
  • Make sure you understand government assistance program guidelines. Most children with special needs benefit from at least one government assistance program. Most of these programs are based, in part, on income and assets. When the parents divorce, eligibility will need to be recalculated. Which parent is designated as the PRP may directly impact eligibility. 
  • Consider alimony and child support carefully.  Standard child support and alimony calculations often do not apply when there is a child with special needs involved in a divorce. Whether you are the party receiving or paying support, it is imperative that you understand how both child support and alimony are calculated during the divorce process.
  • Be clear on decision-making authority. Major decisions involving any child can become a point of contention between the parents. When the child has special needs, the odds increase dramatically that parents will not agree on important medical or educational decisions simply because those decisions themselves are more complicated. Make sure you understand who will have ultimate decision-making authority, and what decisions are included in that authority.

Contact a Murfreesboro Custody Lawyer

If you have additional questions about a Tennessee divorce with a child with special needs, consult with an experienced Murfreesboro child custody lawyer as soon as possible. Contact the team at Bennett | Michael | Hornsby as soon as possible by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your free appointment.

Stan Bennett