Terese J. Singer

Divorce with a Special Needs Child

Milwaukee Attorney Helping Parents Resolve Custody and Support Issues

Contemplating how to care for a child on your own after a divorce can be overwhelming, to say the least. Going from a two-parent to a one-parent household often means that a whole host of additional burdens are placed on the parent with primary custody, including more time constraints, more financial requirements, and more stress. This situation is made more difficult when going through a divorce with a special needs child. Milwaukee divorce lawyer Terese J. Singer can work with parents who are facing the unique challenges posed by a special needs child to try to relieve some of these burdens through the divorce process.

Child Custody in a Divorce With a Special Needs Child

As an initial step toward fairly meeting the requirements of a special needs child, both the parents and the court must make an accurate assessment of what is in the child’s best interest. This is ultimately what the court is most concerned with addressing, and it should be at the forefront of parents’ minds as well. For example, making an honest assessment of the work and time requirements imposed on each parent, they will need to consider who is in the better position to provide for the child’s needs. This may be the parent with the greater financial resources, or it may be the parent with the greater flexibility and familial support. No matter which parent is designated as the primary custodian, the determination of custody must involve more than simply what the parents want out of the arrangement.

While joint custody and visitation are certainly possible with a special needs child, the reality is that many special needs children are not able to juggle multiple households as easily as a child who does not have special needs. Physical impairments may make travel difficult, or the demands of therapy and education may require that the child be in one place for consistency and the best possible results. This means that some traditional custody arrangements, such as spending the school year with one parent and summer with the other, do not work for special needs children.

After Custody, Determining Support

Once custody arrangements have been nailed down, the parties and the court must figure out the appropriate level of support for the parent who is primarily responsible for the special needs child. In Wisconsin, child support guidelines typically govern how much child support should be given to a primary custodian. In special needs cases, these charts are rarely decisive because they do not include all of the unique expenses that parents of special needs children may encounter.

For example, it is likely that special needs children will have much higher medical expenses, will need special private schooling, and will require certain equipment or home modifications in order to be comfortable. In order to account for these challenges, courts will typically deviate from the child support standards set forth in Wisconsin.

Public Benefits and Adulthood

A divorce with a special needs child must also take into consideration two other unique factors. First, when considering child support or spousal maintenance payments, parents and courts must investigate whether a child has access to public benefits because of his or her needs, and how support might affect that access to benefits. Parents certainly want to prevent child support payments from precluding a child from receiving the governmental support that he or she is entitled to obtain.

Parents and courts must also consider the long-term support that the child may require into adulthood. Unlike other children, who may become emancipated and able to support themselves after they graduate from high school or college, special needs children may need support throughout their lifetime, and they may even need calculated planning for support after their parents are no longer alive. Sometimes this means working with financial planners and estates and trusts attorneys during the divorce process to make sure that your children are adequately protected.

Contact a Milwaukee Attorney to Discuss a Divorce With a Special Needs Child

At Reddin & Singer, LLP, family law attorney Terese J. Singer can work with you to facilitate all of the aspects of a divorce involving a special needs child. Whether you are curious about public benefits, custodial arrangements, or how to protect your child into adulthood, we are available to answer your questions and provide additional resources. You can contact our office for more information at (414) 271-6400 or online. We assist people in Milwaukee, West Bend, Waukesha, Racine, Port Washington, and other areas of Milwaukee, West Bend, Waukesha, Racine, and Ozaukee Counties.

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