Custody and Support Issues for Special Needs Children

If you are the parent of a special needs child and you’re contemplating divorce, your child’s well-being must weigh heavily on your mind. To make sure that your child’s needs are met during and after your divorce, you must set reasonable goals for the divorce process. You want to make the transition as smooth as possible to limit any disruption to your child’s routine. You also want to make sure your divorce decree clearly delineates each parent’s responsibilities for your child’s health and welfare.

With regards to custody, courts may favor the parent who has been the child’s primary caretaker. If both parents have been active in the child’s life and have similar insight into the child’s needs, joint custody is possible provided the parents demonstrate an ability to work cooperatively, putting the child’s needs ahead of their own. But, if the child has a rare condition and one parent has specialized knowledge or training in the child’s care, the court could favor sole physical custody for that parent.

The next issue is support, which can be quite thorny when it comes to a child’s special needs. Minnesota has guidelines for basic child support based on the parents’ combined income. However, special needs children often have expenses above and beyond those of typical children their age. The custodial parent may petition the court under 2015 Minnesota Statutes §518A.43 to enhance child support based on “the extraordinary financial needs and resources, physical and emotional condition, and educational needs of the child to be supported.”

Support can be further complicated if you decide that as the sole custodial parent of a special needs child, you can no longer work outside the home. Your spouse could accuse you of taking unfair advantage of the situation and creating an unnecessary financial burden. The court looks at the totality of the circumstances, including your work history and the availability of day care, in deciding whether it is fair to place more financial responsibility on your spouse. However, in matters of support and custody, the court rules based on what it perceives to be the best interests of the child.

If you’d like further information on issues of custody and support for special needs children, schedule a free consultation with our family law attorneys at Appelhof, Pfeifer & Hart, P.A.

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