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Six important tips when divorcing with special needs children

Divorce is always difficult. If you're a parent of a child with special needs, however, ending your marriage can pose even greater challenges.

Children with Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorders and other physical or mental conditions frequently require individualized education programs (IEPs) and other types of educational, social and medical support. These issues should all be taken into consideration during the divorce process.

Here are six of the most important points to keep in mind:

1. Avoid unnecessary upheaval. While divorce naturally brings life changes, the more you can minimize the disruption to your child's schedule and routine, the better. Many children with special needs tend to regress when faced with too many changes all at once.

2. Pay careful attention to child support. An article by The Special Needs Alliance points out that most standard child support calculators don't take into account the unique expenses associated with special needs care. Such expenses can include medications, paid respite care, in-home services, educational aides and more. Child support may also need to extend far beyond age 18.

3. Protect your child's eligibility for public benefits. It's very important to work with a divorce lawyer who understands how child support payments and alimony payments may interfere with Medicaid eligibility, Supplemental Security Income payments and other government benefits.

4. Be consistent with visitation arrangements. The American Bar Association notes that inconsistency in visitation schedules can create anxiety in many children with special needs. Try to keep the pick-up and drop-off locations the same from week to week, adhere to the same timeframes, etc.

5. Determine how educational decisions will be made. Your final divorce settlement or decree should clearly state which parent will have the final say in educational decisions. If both parents will have decision-making power, the final decree should still state how disagreements will be resolved.

6. Choose a skilled and understanding lawyer. The divorce attorney you choose should be experienced in special needs issues. In addition, he or she should be willing and able to help you navigate the legal process with the least amount of emotional and financial trauma to all concerned.

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