Divorce and Parenting Considerations with the family who has a child with special needs. When a client comes into my office and is in the process of divorce and they have a child or children with special needs we typically discuss the following:
1. Are both parents on the same page about the child’s needs and level of disability?
The failure to agree on these key issues presents problems for all areas of decision making and parenting. In some cases, a neutral expert may help bridge the gap in understanding and appreciation of the child’s needs. In Illinois, the new statute enacted in January of 2016, eliminates the word custody and instead refers to decision making. This is particularly important in cases where there is a child with a disability since decision making may be more complex and it is much harder to separate out the medical, mental health issues and educational decisions into clearly defined categories. See 750 ILCS 5/602.5 Allocation of parental responsibilities: decision making.
2. What are the educational arrangements for the child?
Special Education services are a key element in a families’ lives that need to be addressed in the divorce process.
Where will a child live? The availability of services can vary from state to state and different school districts may provide different services. Issues of residency for school district purposes should be addressed early on with the client.
Who will be the parent who manages the educational process? In many cases one parent (often the parent who is able to be more flexible at work) manages the day to day educational issues. Ideally, both parents should attend and be involved in the IEP process but this isn’t always possible. Will this collaboration and involvement continue after the divorce or will there need to be a change? 750 ILCS 602.5(a)(1)
3. What implications are there for child support and maintenance?
The need to care for a child with a disability may affect one or both parents’ employment options. The financial concerns are often complex and require an out of the box solution. The costs associated with the care of the child may necessitate a departure from guideline child support. 750 ILCS 5/505 Child Support.