Mother Holding Her Daughter That Has Special NeedsRaising a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, or other special needs presents daily and life-long challenges for parents. In fact, the stress and conflict created by raising a special needs child seem to contribute to a higher divorce rate among parents of these children. Whether your divorce is related to having a child with special needs or not, planning for the child’s care should be a top priority throughout the divorce process. Our family law team will walk you through your options and help you navigate this especially difficult process.

Questions to Answer Early in the Divorce Process

It is important that you establish what your child’s needs and abilities are before you get too far in the custody and child support process. Answering these questions will help your lawyer advocate for the child’s best interests:

  • What is your child’s medical diagnosis?
  • What medications and therapies does your child require?
  • What does a typical day in your child’s life look like?
  • What are the out-of-pocket expenses related to your child’s care?
  • What home modifications are in place for your child?
  • Is your child capable of making frequent transitions without becoming upset?
  • Other than you and your spouse, who else is involved in your child’s care?
  • Is your child expected to be able to live independently one day?

Documentation that backs up these answers, including doctors’ notes, bills, statements from teachers, photographs, medical tests, and more, will also be helpful in coming up with a custody and child support plan.

Custody of a Special Needs Child

In many cases, it is far too difficult and expensive to move a child with special medical needs back and forth between two households. Even many children with mild ASD have a difficult time with transitions, and it would not be in their best interests to ask for joint custody. In a best-case scenario, you and your spouse would agree on the custody arrangement and visitation plan that is best for the child with special needs. If you can’t agree, as your attorneys, we will fight for the plan that you believe is best for your child. Keep in mind that these orders would only apply to the child with special needs, so you might have two different parenting plans if you have other children. Ideally, the non-custodial parent will be ordered to help with child care, transportation, treatment and education plans, and other needs. 

Virginia’s Child Support Chart Does Not Account for Special Needs

The Commonwealth of Virginia determines child support payments by a set formula that takes gross family income, the number of children needing support, and custody into account. It does not factor in details such as the added costs of caring for a child with special needs, which can be significant. However, child support payments can and will be modified by the court to reflect the actual cost of caring for your child. Some costs to consider include:

  • Medications and medical equipment
  • Non-prescription treatments
  • Physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech and language therapy, if not covered by insurance
  • Special dietary needs
  • School tuition and transportation to and from school
  • After school care
  • Respite care for the custodial parent

When all of this information has been gathered and documented, your lawyer can determine the appropriate amount of child support to ask the court for. If your child qualifies for government benefits such as Social Security disability, you will want to be sure to structure child support payments in a way that does not jeopardize their benefits.

Looking Ahead for Children With Special Needs

Depending on your child’s diagnosis and expectations for their future, they might qualify for child support payments and parenting orders beyond their 18th birthday. You might also need to establish legal guardianship to be able to continue caring for the child into adulthood. Our team will help you ensure that your child is protected into adulthood and after your death.

James E. Short, PLC Is Here for You

The sooner you consult our Virginia family law attorney in the child support process, the more help we will be able to provide for your special needs child. Whether you are the custodial parent who thinks you should be getting more in child support payments from the other parent or the non-custodial parent who thinks you should be paying less due to your financial situation, we can help. When you contact James Short, he will explain your rights and options and help you figure out the best way to support your children. Contact us online or call our office at 757-410-5042.


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