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Special needs children require special attention in divorce

Only parents with a special needs child understand the complexities of raising a child who has a physical or mental impairment. While the child brings immense and indescribable joy to their lives, they face daily challenges that other parents do not.

When parents of a special needs child go through a divorce, extreme care has to be taken to arrange for the child's support, which, depending on the nature of his or her disability, can extend into adulthood.

The decisions that are always made in a divorce settlement include with whom the child will live, what rights the other parent has with regard to visitation, and what amount the child support payment will be. The last question has to be answered with great care for a variety of reasons.

Understanding child support laws for special needs children in Florida

Child support ends when the child reaches age 18, or age 19 if the child lives at home but still attends high school. In Florida, an exception is made when the child is dependent on care as a result of incapacity, mental or physical, that occurred before he or she turns 18.

Caring for a special needs child is expensive, requiring additional health care services, medications, rehabilitative treatments and other expenses that allow him or her to live the best life possible.

Depending on the seriousness of the child's disability, it can mean lifelong care. Even a child taught to be self-supporting may need government and other assistance. Advances in medical science that may impact your child's care make estimating how much he or she will need complicated.

The task of providing care for a special needs child can be a full-time job and can involve a large amount of stress for the parent who is tasked with giving that care alone. Burden sharing and consideration for respite for the custodial parent should be part of the divorce agreement.

Experienced help matters

In crafting a child support agreement, you and your spouse have to be careful, because a number of government services are means tested. Set the level of child support and alimony too high, and you and your child may well find yourselves ineligible for government help.

Because the child may need help throughout his or her entire life, you and your spouse must consider that possibility when settling on spousal support. You will need to consider what kind of insurance, guardianship arrangements and gifting plans will be required to provide your child with the support she or he needs in the event the child outlives both of you.

It therefore goes without saying that a parenting plan for a special needs child requires extra care and the sort of experience that an ordinary divorce lawyer may not possess.