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Tips For Navigating a Divorce in NJ with a Special Needs Child
If you’re a parent of a special needs child and are facing the prospect of divorce in New Jersey, you undoubtedly have many questions, worries, and concerns. You may be wondering what your legal rights and obligations will be under the law when it comes to custody agreements or modifications to existing arrangements.
Moreover, you need to ensure that all your decisions put your child’s best interests first. Below we provide tips that guide parents through this difficult process while keeping their children’s well-being as a priority throughout.
What Makes a Divorce with a Special Needs Child Different?
A divorce of any kind is going to be a complex situation that requires considerations of finances, custody, and assets. But this complexity becomes even larger when you’re trying to find what’s best for a special needs child. The complex medical/therapeutic and educational needs of the child must be considered.
Unfortunately, sometimes the court itself may not fully comprehend the day-to-day needs of a child with special needs. For instance, the child support calculator only really looks at income and how many days the child spends with each parent. It doesn’t consider the therapies and medical costs involved in raising a special needs child. That’s why it’s so important to look for an attorney with experience in this field to help guide you from the beginning of your divorce proceedings.
4 Aspects of Divorce with a Special Needs Child to Be Considered
There are several aspects you must consider in these cases, including:
- If you have more than one child, the needs of the other children may be different, especially if they don’t have special needs. Therefore, the needs of all the children will need to be considered.
- Special custodial situations may be necessary as special needs children need more consistency in their lives. Moving back and forth between two households may not be optimum for their well-being.
- The custodial situation may also be further complicated by medical insurance. If a child needs special medical equipment, the insurance will generally only pay for one set. This means that accommodations will have to be made for the non-custodial parent to share the equipment as much as possible. Also, traveling between homes may also be a complicated matter for the same reasons.
- Another issue may be an outside caretaker. Considerations will have to be made regarding whether the caretaker will be available for both parents’ households. In some extreme cases, it may also be necessary to consider an outside placement such as an assisted living or nursing home.
Financial and Estate Planning Considerations for Special Needs Children of Divorce
Divorces usually have some degree of negotiation where finances are concerned. In a divorce that includes a child with considerable challenges, finances are especially difficult to work out.
Here are aspects of the divorce that should be worked through for your child to be cared for long after your dissolved union is finalized:
- Update your will and estate plan to include the accommodations for all your children. This means talking with your attorney to plan for the needs of your special needs child.
- If you have guardians, trustees, and executors named in your will, you and the other parent will each need to update documents. Additionally, you may need to establish a guardianship for your child when he or she reaches 18.
- Consider setting up a trust for your special needs child to protect your child’s eligibility for Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income.
- Keep in mind that New Jersey child support guidelines currently don’t consider the special needs of children when determining support. Regardless of the child’s status, all support is discontinued at the age of 23. So, it’s important to make financial plans to continue with care beyond this point. This may be further compounded if you can’t work because you care for your child full-time.
Guardianship for Your Special Needs Child Is Vitally Important
As a child’s parent, you’re the one to make decisions for that child until he or she is 18. But when they turn 18, you will need to petition the court to grant a guardianship to you for your special needs child to continue making those decisions.
When divorcing, you will need to determine guardianship and support/maintenance payments for your child with special needs and their care. You’ll need the help of an experienced family attorney who can guide you toward getting the medical paperwork and other financial information.
Trusts, Child Support, Financial Maintenance Payments, and Government Benefits
Generally, the guardianship issues will need to be handled before you can proceed with other aspects of your divorce such as child support and the division of assets. According to New Jersey state law, child support will end if the child dies, marries, enlists in the military, or turns 19.
However, the law further states that it can be extended if there is a court order, if the child continues in high school, if the child is enrolled in college or other program, or if the child has a mental or physical disability that requires continued support. These exceptions can only continue until the child is 23.
At that point, steps will have to be taken to install financial maintenance for the child. Another further complication is that children (and adults) with special needs may qualify for Medicaid and SSI (Supplemental Security Income).
However, if they’re receiving maintenance payments, those payments may be classified as an asset. This could then disqualify them from government assistance. That’s why an experienced attorney will need to handle these complex details.
Contact the Experienced Family Law Attorneys at Smedley Law Group in Woodbury, NJ Today
If you’re thinking about filing for divorce, you’ll also most likely be dealing with another matter like child custody or child support for a special needs child, or division of assets, so you’ll need to speak with a qualified attorney. The New Jersey family law attorneys at Smedley Law Group represent clients throughout the state, including West Deptford, Woodbury Heights, Runnemede, and Westville. We understand how challenging this time can be for you, which is why we will fight hard to protect your interests, and the interests of your loved ones, throughout the legal process. Call us at (856) 251-0800 or fill out our confidential contact form to schedule a consultation. We have an office conveniently located at 750 Cooper Street, Woodbury, NJ 08096.
The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.