The Connecticut Divorce and Children With Special Needs

This Week’s Blog by Eric J. Broder

  • In Connecticut, the divorce rate is higher for marriages involving children with special needs
  • Custody and Parenting Plans in a case where families have children with special needs often differ from more “typical” divorce cases
  • Alimony, Child Support, and Equitable Distribution of Assets need to be analyzed differently when you have children with special needs

There is a wide body of research confirming that parents of children with special needs have a higher divorce rate than those without special needs children.  As Connecticut divorce lawyers with offices in Greenwich and Westport, our firm has represented many parents of children with special needs.

As I have learned through my discussions with many parents of special needs children and with child therapists, one reason for the increased divorce rate among this group is that raising a special needs child often places many difficult and unforeseen challenges and stresses upon a family. Often there is very little, if any, “down time” for parents of special needs children, and little time to devote to each other, such as having a simple date night.

When a family with a special needs child goes through a divorce, the issues of child custody, visitation/parenting plans, alimony, child support, and the equitable distribution of assets can become more difficult to negotiate, and often require a greater deal of attention and analysis in order to ensure that the child’s needs are adequately addressed.

Custody in Cases Involving Children with Special Needs

In the case of a child with special needs, the hope is that the parents can share joint legal custody of the child, meaning that the parents consult with each other with respect to all major issues concerning the child (such as medical, educational, and religious issues), so that all major decisions are made jointly.  When parents share joint legal custody of a child, each parent has an equal voice and neither parent has greater decision-making authority than the other parent.  In the event the parties cannot agree upon joint custody and one or both parties is seeking “sole custody” of a child (wherein one parent has the right to make final decisions regarding a child in the event the parties cannot agree upon an issue), the process becomes much more difficult, time consuming, and expensive.  In such scenarios, a Guardian Ad Litem will often be appointed, the costs of which will paid for by the parties.  That individual will spend a great deal of time talking not only to the parents and the child, but also to any mental health professionals, teachers, caregivers, friends, and family that know the child and/or the parents well, or provide professional services to the child. Simply, your child’s entire community can become involved in the case.

Parenting Plans for Children with Special Needs

Connecticut divorce parenting plans for children with special needs often require approaches that differ from traditional parenting plans and in such scenarios there is not really a “typical” plan.  In order to devise a plan that adequately addresses a child’s special needs, it is strongly recommended that parents work together with the child’s medical provider and/or mental health professional.  For example, transitions between houses are often an issue that must be appropriately addressed.

Is Alimony different in Cases Involving Children with Special Needs?

The amount and term of alimony can differ in cases involving a child with special needs if the child’s needs require one of the parents to stay home to provide extra care. Accordingly, this parent will not be able to work or develop a career as easily as others. In these circumstances, a solution may be a longer alimony term for the recipient.

Is Child Support different in Cases Involving Children with Special Needs?

The Connecticut Child Support Guidelines do not specifically address or have any separate designation for children with special needs. However, there can be a deviation from the standard child support amount based upon consideration of a child’s special needs. Typically, child support ends at the later of a child reaching the age of 18 or graduating from high school but not later than the age of 19. In the case of a child with special needs, however, child support may be extended until age 21.  In addition to regular child support, any and all unreimbursed medical expenses (including appropriate child care expenses) will be apportioned between the parents subject to their financial situations.  Furthermore, depending on the severity of a child’s special needs, there may be other entitlements available to the child such as social security disability.

Equitable Distribution of Assets

In dividing assets, parties who have the financial ability to set aside funds for the care of a special needs child will often do so through a special needs trust. It is also strongly recommended that a Trust and Estates lawyer be involved to help the parties plan properly for the future care of their child.

With offices located in Greenwich and Westport, the attorneys at Broder & Orland LLC have extensive experience in negotiating and drafting divorce agreements involving children with special needs and we offer comprehensive guidance through the wide range of issues that arise during a divorce.