Going through a divorce is tough. It just is. However, if you have a special needs child or a child with a disability it can become even more challenging to navigate. The financial complexities and the reality of day to day caring for a special needs child as a single parent are real.
A Realistic Parenting Plan
Parents often disagree about aspects of raising their children, even those in an intact marriage. For those going through a divorce, those disagreements can become exasperated. A realistic and feasible parenting plan for a child with special needs may differ greatly from the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines. Special consideration needs to be given to the needs of the child and the ability of each parent to meet those needs and still juggle their other children, jobs, etc. Part of developing a great parenting plan is taking the time to reality test it. If one parent has never taken the child to any doctor or therapy appointment, is it realistic to do equally shared parenting time? What would it take to make that work? Will childcare be needed when it wasn’t previously? As difficult as it can be, it is important to have all of the conversations during the divorce process to avoid potholes in the future.
A Realistic Financial Plan
It is also extraordinarily important to make sure that both parties have a realistic grasp on the financial picture. Children with special needs also often come with special expenses. It is important that both parents understand the financial needs of the child and how those get met. What does insurance cover? Child support calculators do not necessarily consider the additional expenses that come with raising a child with special needs. We encourage each parent to work through their own budget to understand where they stand as an individual, a single paycheck. From there we figure out what child support is – and what it covers. What is a realistic expected duration of support? Many special needs children will not follow a traditional trajectory of moving out or going to college right after high school. Continued support must be discussed, and life insurance is often necessary to ensure that the child will be supported if one parent should pass away.
Does Your Child Need an IEP or 504 Plan?
Another important item of discussion is to make sure that you are on the same page regarding an IEP or 504 Plan. IEP’s and 504’s are plans or programs developed by schools to give kids with disabilities the support they need and the protections they are entitled to. An IEP provides specialized instruction and focuses on what a child is learning and a 504 provides for special accommodations and focuses on how a child is learning. Not only do you need to understand what your child is entitled to but also what that looks like in their day-to-day school life. Both parents have the right to be on the IEP or 504 Plan team and attend meetings, but with the added emotions and complexities of divorce it is imperative that the parents keep the best interest of the child front and center. If the parents are not on the same page, it will be very difficult to get the rest of the team in line. It is necessary to have clearly defined roles and decision-making authority, even if that means that one parent has sole legal custody of the child.
It’s All in the Details
Divorcing and divorced couples have a lot to consider as they extricate themselves from their marriage. It becomes even more complicated when they co-parent a special needs child. In addition to seeking legal advice, it is helpful to seek a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® to assist with the financial discussions as well as a professional that can help navigate the IEP and 504 plans at school. Finally, a good mediator can help the couple have the necessary conversations, in the level of detail needed, to determine what is best for their family as they move forward.