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Considerations for Divorcing Parents with Special Needs Children


Families with children who have special needs may face unique worries and concerns when planning for a divorce. For example, when divorce occurs, one worry parents of special needs children have is the uncertainty surrounding their children’s future — especially the immediate uncertainty of how to maintain the child’s schedule and level of care in the midst of the potential financial hardship dividing one household may create. There are viable options for parents to seek a divorce and maintain their child’s well-being, however.

Common Considerations to Address

Parents may have designated one parent to see to all of their child’s medical and therapeutic appointments and be the main point of contact in a “divide and conquer approach” while the other parent works full time.

However, when seeking a divorce, the stay-at-home parent may be concerned about finding employment that will be flexible enough to still allow them to juggle the child’s weekly or even daily appointments. Meanwhile, the parent who works full time may be concerned as to how to continue that full-time employment and see to the day-to-day needs of their child. There may also be worries and allegations made that the parent who has not typically been as involved in the therapeutic and day-to-day care of the child will not be as committed to the care once the household is divided.

Parenting Time Professionals

Parents of special needs children will need to strongly consider the use of a parenting time professional to assist in determining custody. This is extremely important when it comes to determining if one or both parents will have decision-making authority over important aspects of their child’s life, such as medical and educational decisions.

Two types of professionals are commonly used in custody disputes in Colorado: Parental Responsibility Evaluators (PRE) and Child and Family Investigators (CFI). Both of these professionals will complete an investigation that may include home visits, interviews with the child and parents, observations of parenting time, and interviews with friends and family members.

This type of investigation may be of particular importance to the families of children with special needs, as the court does not have the ability to meet with your children one-on-one or go into your homes and speak to your child’s medical and therapeutic support team to assist in making the determinations. A CFI or PRE will have additional time and resources that the judge will not.

Financial Considerations

Another huge concern is planning for your child’s long-term care, including in the unfortunate circumstance of you and/or your ex-spouse passing away. Divorcing parents will want to strongly consider setting up a special needs trust for their child if they do not have one set up already. Each parent should name the special needs trust as the beneficiary of their life insurance policies and investment accounts so their children may maintain the care they need after the parent’s passing.

Additional Considerations

Some additional considerations for parents of special needs children include:

  • Outlining within any parenting plan that both parents must ensure that the child attends all scheduled medical or therapy appointments and that the parent exerting parenting time will transport the child to those appointments;
  • Implementing a provision within a parenting plan for the division of legal guardianship fees in relation to their child once they turn 18;
  • Dividing the costs of the child’s long-term care needs as they transition into adulthood;
  • Preserving any governmental benefits for the child when child support is ordered; and
  • Tailoring any divorce agreement to meet the potential long-term care needs of your child.

With offices in Denver, Englewood, and Evergreen and more than 250 years of collective experience, The Harris Law Firm has the knowledge and resources to help clients throughout Colorado in divorce and family law matters. We take a detailed approach to each case via progressive, cooperative strategizing to ensure a successful divorce and prioritize the well-being of a family’s children.

Call The Harris Law Firm at (303) 622-5502 today to speak to an award-winning attorney.

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