Divorce can be difficult for children under the best of circumstances. Unfortunately, there is a disproportionately high incidence of divorce among the parents of disabled children. Resolving custody and child support issues where there are children with special needs can present a complex challenge, what ever the nature of the disability may be. The attorneys at Greenberg & Krieger have had substantial experience handling divorces involving children with special needs.

Child Support and the Child with Special Needs

Beyond the need for basic child support, children with special needs present critical issues with regard to educational decision making; health and medical care (including the need for special therapies and advocates), and challenges with regard to social and recreational opportunities. Is specialized child care assistance needed? For children with a disability, meeting their needs may entail costs and expenses that go beyond those provided for in the child support guidelines. They also may qualify for child support that extends beyond the age limit that applies to children without special needs.

Spousal Maintenance and Alimony

Primary responsibility for caring for a disabled child can impact a parent’s ability to pursue employment. Alimony and support needs are impacted when managing the care of the child is a full time job.

Visitation and Custody

Who is the primary care giver? Who makes medical decisions? Educational decisions? Who is the primary interface with outside care providers and educators? Parents need to work together in making choices. Divorcing parents need to put the child first and take a thoughtful approach to child visitation arrangements and transitions of all kinds.

At the same time the needs of siblings have to be considered. Parenting plans providing predictability and clarity are especially critical for families with children who have special needs.


Finding and funding appropriate education supports and social outlets can be a challenge. Separation Agreements and Parenting Plans need to promote opportunities for children to gain competency and be as independent as possible. If the disabled child is of school age and qualifies, the school system is obligated to identify the disability under mandated eligibility criteria and provide individualized services. Obtaining these services may require intense involvement and advocacy, both by the parents, and by professionals.

Special Needs Trusts

In order to provide for current and future needs and interests, consideration also needs to be given to estate planning. Provisions can be made through a special needs trust, to avoid disqualifying the child from an entitlement program the special needs child depends on. These can be planned and arranged for during the divorce process taking into consideration available assets and resources.

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