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Divorcing When Your Child Has Special Needs

When a Georgia divorce or separation involves children with special needs, child custody and child support can become significantly more complex. Taking care of children with special needs requires more thought, cooperation, communication, and resources– but splitting up often causes the opposite of this. For this reason, divorcing parents of special needs children need to be extra careful, thoughtful, and detailed in taking their next steps as co-parents.

To attain the special needs children’s best interests and ensure their well-being from the divorce onwards, it’s best for divorcing parents to consult with experts that are knowledgeable and experienced in handling similar cases. 

At The Manely Firm, we have been successfully assisting clients with their divorce and custody issues for three decades. We understand that divorcing when you have children with special needs requires compassionate understanding and greater attention to detail, especially when it comes to parenting plans and timesharing (custody).

The Challenges of Divorcing When You Have Special Needs Children

When parents of special needs children decide to divorce, they often encounter unique challenges that can make the process more complex and emotionally demanding. These challenges may include:

  • Coordinating care: Special needs children often require consistent and specialized care, including medical appointments, therapies, and educational support. Divorcing parents must navigate how to effectively coordinate and share these responsibilities while ensuring their child’s well-being.


  • Financial considerations: Caring for a child with special needs can involve significant financial obligations. Divorcing parents must address how to divide the costs of medical expenses, therapies, assistive devices, and other specialized resources. Determining child support and creating a financial plan that adequately supports the child’s unique needs requires careful consideration.
  • Communication and decision-making: Effective communication between parents is crucial for the well-being of a special needs child. Divorcing parents must establish channels for ongoing communication and decision-making regarding the child’s medical, therapeutic, and educational needs. This can be particularly challenging if there are conflicts or difficulties in the parent’s relationship.
  • Transition and routine changes: Special needs children often rely on structure, routine, and familiarity for stability and emotional well-being. The process of divorce introduces changes in living arrangements, schedules, and environments, which can be disruptive and distressing for the child. Parents must work together to create a transition plan that minimizes disruptions and supports the child’s adjustment to the new circumstances.
  • The emotional impact on the child: Divorce can be emotionally challenging for any child, and the impact may be heightened for a child with special needs who may have difficulty understanding or expressing their emotions. Parents should be attuned to their child’s emotional needs, provide reassurance, and consider involving professional support, such as therapists or counselors, to help the child navigate the changes.

Navigating these challenges requires empathy, open communication, and a child-centered approach. Seeking the guidance of experienced professionals, such as family law attorneys and mental health experts specializing in special needs children, can provide invaluable support and guidance throughout the divorce process. By working collaboratively and prioritizing the best interests of their child, parents can create a stable and nurturing environment for their special needs child during and after the divorce.

Special Considerations For Special Children

When crafting parenting plans for a child with special needs, it is crucial to consider specific factors that are unique to their situation. Both parents should carefully consider:

  • Each parent’s ability to provide the care the child requires. This includes any additional medical or health care needs the child has.
  • Each parent’s home environment and accessibility. This includes whether the child requires special access or accommodations.
  • Each parent’s physical home environment. Consider how the child might respond to any sort of change in their home, school, or community environment. This is especially important for children who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
  • Each parent’s physical proximity to the child’s medical care providers.

One important factor to also consider is each parent’s ability to communicate with the other. Special needs children require the support of both parents to ensure that they receive the quality care and services they need to thrive. This is perhaps never more important than in the time directly following a divorce or separation. An attorney who is experienced and skilled in Georgia family law matters can assess your situation and offer experienced guidance.

Child Support and Long-Term Care for Special Needs Children

Child support for special needs children often involves additional expenses for equipment, care, and services beyond what typical child support guidelines cover. There are also specific issues that arise as the child grows into adulthood. These issues include things like who will be responsible for making decisions on behalf of the child, what benefits the child may be eligible for from government or private agencies, finding employment opportunities, engaging in recreational activities, living independently, or receiving ongoing care.

Unlike typical situations where child support and custody end when the child reaches adulthood or finishes college, divorcing parents of children with special needs who have significant challenges may need to plan for lifelong care and co-parenting. Because the care for a child with special needs may continue well beyond their transition into adulthood, it’s crucial to create a divorce agreement that considers the long-term future. This may involve setting up special needs trusts that work alongside public benefits and take into account gifting plans and long-term care insurance. 

By effectively outlining support obligations and parenting plans in the divorce settlement, parents can ensure that there are provisions for expenses that contribute to the child’s quality of life. It’s essential to tailor the agreement to meet the ongoing needs of the child with special needs and provide the necessary financial and caregiving support as they continue to grow and face the challenges of adulthood.

To achieve this, it is crucial to work with an attorney who understands these complexities and can ensure that custody and support arrangements adequately address the unique needs of your child.

Work With An Attorney Who Understands What Special Needs Children Need

At The Manely Firm, P.C., we have extensive experience helping parents and their children create parenting and timesharing plans that take into consideration the unique necessities of special needs children. We will work with you to structure the type of plan that accounts for your child’s needs and your ability to provide. Contact us at 844-283-7655 to schedule a consultation and discuss your situation. We are proud to serve Marietta and the wider Atlanta area. Alternatively, you can reach us through the contact form on our website.