Research has indicated that parents of special needs children experience heightened levels of stress, which can strain even the healthiest of relationships. When a parent with a special needs child initiates divorce proceedings, there are a multitude of special considerations that need to be examined. With increasing rates of both divorce and special needs children (especially those on the autism spectrum) rising, it is important to consult with an authority in the field of divorce and the special needs child. The New Jersey special needs lawyers at Adinolfi & Packman, P.A. are experienced family law attorneys who advocate effectively for the best interests of the family as well as the special needs child throughout divorce proceedings.
Custody and Visitation Considerations for Special Needs Child of Divorce in New Jersey
In any divorce proceeding, the first point to be decided usually involves the custody and parenting time of the children. When a special needs child is involved, such as a child with autism, this determination requires special considerations.
In New Jersey, there are two kinds of custody: legal custody and physical (residential) custody. The residential custodian is the person whom the child lives with on a daily basis but the legal custodian is the person who makes the major decisions on behalf of the child. Even when one parent might have physical custody, both parents may still have joint legal custody. In this situation, both parents communicate with each other and try to agree on all major decisions regarding the child. In theory, joint legal custody allows both parents to have equal say in all important matters in their child’s life. Unfortunately in divorce situations, spouses are often unable to communicate effectively or agree on anything, including issues involving their special needs child.
Joint Legal Custody and the Special Needs Child in New Jersey
For an effective joint legal custody agreement, especially in the case of an autistic child or one with other special needs, it is vital that divorcing parents put aside their differences and come to an agreement on critical decisions involving their child such as school programs, therapies, medical treatments and interventions. A special needs child’s development and progress can be severely hindered if the divorcing parents continue to battle each other rather than work together to agree on matters involving the best interests of their child. If parents demonstrate an historical inability to agree on the many issues surrounding their special needs child, joint legal custody may not be in the best interests of that child. If this is the battle you are anticipating in your divorce, it is imperative that you consult with the New Jersey special needs attorneys at Adinolfi & Packman. We can help. Our special needs attorneys will represent your position with compassion and diligence and fight for your right to make decisions regarding their special needs child.
Physical (Residential) Custody of the Special Needs Child in Divorce
The residential (physical) custodian of a child of divorce is the parent with whom the child primarily resides. If parents of a child cannot agree on who will be the physical custodian of their child, New Jersey courts will apply a “best interests of the child” standard.
In New Jersey divorce cases involving a special needs child, the South Jersey special needs divorce attorneys at Adinolfi & Packman are well-versed in the unique attributes necessary for a qualified residential custodian of a special needs child. Some of these identifying characteristics include:
- The role of the parents in obtaining the child’s diagnosis;
- The parents’ acceptance of the diagnosis and condition of the child;
- The parents’ role in obtaining needed therapies and interventions; and
- Each parent’s ability to handle the stress and daily grind involved in raising a child with special needs.
When issues of residential custody of special needs children are determined in Family Court, it is necessary to ensure that the unique requirements of the child are considered. While a competent divorce attorney may have years of experience dealing with custody issues for families without special needs children, a special needs attorney can better handle custody issues involving children with special needs such as autism. Clearly understanding the particular characteristics necessary for a competent daily caretaker of a special needs child, an experienced New Jersey special needs lawyer, such as the attorneys at Adinolfi & Packman, can assist in establishing the physical custodian who can best meet the child’s needs on a day-to-day basis.
Parenting Time with a New Jersey Special Needs Child
Regardless of the physical (residential) and legal custody determinations regarding a special needs child of divorce, both parents are usually entitled to share in the parenting time of that child. In many cases, spouses would like to share parenting time equally. While a 50-50 parenting time arrangement may sound fair on paper, it may be highly counterproductive for the special needs child.
Children with special needs, especially those with ASDs (Autism Spectrum Disorders), do not adapt well to fluctuating situations and frequent transitions. In fact, numerous environmental changes and differing parenting styles may result in a developmental backslide in the child’s progress. Special needs children are more comfortable following a regimented and structured routine. These children also need both parents to follow a consistent parenting style that will reinforce their therapeutic and educational growth. The New Jersey special needs attorneys at Adinolfi & Packman focus on assisting parents in establishing a parenting time scenario where the transitions are as seamless as possible so as to reduce the confusion and discomfort of the special needs child while promoting their continuing educational, physical and social progress.
Other Considerations for Divorce and the Special Needs Child
There is a need for stability and continuity in the law, but with regards to children with special needs and divorce, there is also a need for flexibility in the law to acknowledge and accommodate the needs of a handicapped child while also treating the divorcing spouses as fairly and equitably as possible. With regard to alimony and child support, all negotiations must revolve around safeguarding the best interests of the special needs child.
Additional Costs of Raising a Child with Special Needs
New Jersey child support guidelines do not take into consideration the increased financial burden of raising a child with a disability. A custodial parent of a special needs child not only has to provide the child with food, clothing and shelter. That parent also faces a myriad of additional expenses. Costs such as doctor and specialist bills, medications, therapies, specialized equipment and possibly even tuition for a private special education school must be presented and considered in all support negotiations. Another consideration is extending child support payments beyond the typical timeline should the child not be capable of being self-sufficient at the time of emancipation. New Jersey special needs divorce lawyers at Adinolfi & Packman are extremely knowledgeable regarding, and well-able to explain to the Court, the individualized needs and extraordinary expenses associated with raising a special needs child.
Emancipation Considerations of a Special Needs Child
The potential emancipation of the special needs child is another decision facing divorcing parents. Emancipation is that time when a child moves from the control of the parent and becomes independent in the eyes of the law. This usually occurs when the child turns 18 years old or graduates from high school or college. If a special needs child will require a lifetime of care, or will be unable to achieve self-sufficiency, it is vital that the parents agree who will become the child’s guardian well before that child turns 18.
Life Insurance and Special Need Trusts – Funding the Future of the Special Needs Child
In an intact family where the parents have a healthy marriage, providing for the future of a special needs child may not but probably should be a high priority. For divorcing parents of children with special needs, setting a long-term financial roadmap for their child is vitally important.
Life insurance coverage for both parents of a special needs child can prevent a financial catastrophe should one of the parents die. Without life insurance, the surviving parent can be left financially destitute and unable to care for their special needs child. Life insurance is an important tool for ensuring that a child has at least some source of ongoing support after a parent’s death.
Another long term financial planning tool for divorcing parents of a special needs child is a Special Needs Trust. Even if you are not facing a divorce, it is imperative that you carefully consider your special needs or autistic child’s financial future and set up a Special Needs Trust. A New Jersey special needs trust attorney at Adinolfi & Packman can draft a trust document to ensure that money will be available for a child throughout his or her lifetime and that the money will not impact the child’s ability to access government benefits. It is important to consult with one of our experienced special needs trust attorneys who will protect the child’s future assets and benefits.
Call the New Jersey Special Needs Lawyers at Adinolfi & Packman
If you are a parent of a special needs child and contemplating a divorce, you need a New Jersey special needs attorney who not only is an experienced divorce attorney but who also understands the unique considerations that must be addressed to provide for the best interests of your child. The New Jersey special needs lawyers at Adinolfi & Packman have extensive experience representing clients with special needs children such as autistic children. Possessing the skill and knowledge to handle these highly-sensitive cases, as well as the passion and compassion to provide representation to clients facing anxiety and fears unlike the typical divorce case, our special needs lawyers assist clients throughout New Jersey.
Call our office today at 856-428-8334 to speak with an experienced New Jersey special needs lawyer or contact us.