Divorce that Includes a Special Needs Child



When a divorce includes a child with special needs, a court may award child support and child custody based on the age and specific needs of the child. In some cases, the determined arrangements may extend beyond the child’s legal age, usually 18 years of age.

In most jurisdictions, married and divorced spouses are expected to provide financial support for their children until they reach legal age. When a child is physically or mentally disabled or has special needs, he/she is often incapable of self-support even after reaching legal age. In such cases, the court can order parents to provide financial support for an indefinite period of time, even for the child’s entire adult life. Court approval for extended financial support requires proof of disabilities or special needs. Child support lawyers Pinellas County can help you prove that your special needs child has impairments that require extended child support payments.

Child Support

Florida courts are guided by statutory guidelines that determine child support for non-custodial parents. Guidelines help to determine child support payments based on a certain percentage of disposable net income. If the court thinks it’s appropriate, it may deviate from the statutory guidelines and order child support payments that are more or less than guideline amounts, depending on specific circumstances. For example, a child with special needs often has extraordinary medical expenses related to his/her care, so the court can take this into consideration when determining child support payments.

Child Custody

In all states, child custody is typically determined based on the best interest of the child. To make that determination, the court will look at both parents’ lifestyles, income, financial and emotional stability, as well as other factors. Family courts encourage both parents to continue a healthy, supportive relationship with their children after a divorce. In child custody cases that include a special needs child, shared custody may be difficult due to the child’s limited mobility or other impairments. When physical visits are not possible for the child, the court can order virtual parenting time using various forms of electronic communication. This creates a supportive environment for the child.