In some cases, change can be difficult and stressful for special needs children, and divorce can be a very big change. During the divorce, you will need to make sure that you address your child’s unique considerations and make the right adjustments.

What are some child custody concerns when you have a special needs child?

One of the major aspects of divorce that you must handle very cautiously when you have a special needs child is child custody or the residential schedule of the child. You have to establish who will have the primary physical custody of the child, and it is important to ensure that the parent who has always taken on a majority of the childcare duties does the primary caretaking for the child.

When it comes to visitation, it is important to consider not just the wishes of the child, and but also the child's progress in school and the kind and quality of special needs education that she is receiving. Your child’s education might be limited if she has to transfer from the school that she is currently in. Changing schools is not recommended even during a divorce that does not involve special needs children.

Also, be sure to consider that the child already has well-established relationships with teachers, counselors, service providers, and other children in her school. The termination of those relationships could make a stressful divorce even more difficult for her.

What are some child support concerns when you have a special needs child?

As a special needs child, your child will likely require special education, additional therapy, rehabilitation, additional activities, and other forms of education and care. These are likely to be expensive. Your child support therefore, must address these factors, which add to your childcare expenses. If the child support amount that is determined using the existing guidelines will not be sufficient to meet these expenses, discuss how you can seek more support for your child with your lawyer.

Another child support concern is whether child support payments stop when your child turns 18. If your child cannot fully support herself (if she is not employable because of her disability or cannot make a living wage through her employment) once she is over 18, your child is eligible for continuing support. The amount of the support payments vary by case. A Washington State divorce lawyer will be able to help you find out.

How do you ease a special needs child through a divorce?

You and your spouse must put aside any differences, and compromise in order to ensure that your child has as easy a transition as possible during this delicate stage. Maintain stability — avoid making major changes, and have the child stick to a fixed schedule. If you are the one picking her up from school every day, continue to be the one doing so — being insecure about such matters may add to your child’s anxiety. Discuss your divorce with the child's teachers, care providers, and others at school so that they are able to look out for any changes in your child.

For help with child custody or child support matters, contact divorce attorney Molly B. Kenny at 425-460-0550 or fill out the contact form on this page.

Molly B. Kenny
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Divorce and Child Custody Attorney Serving Bellevue and Seattle Washington