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How a special needs child can complicate a divorce

Most Georgians who have endured the pain of a divorce can attest to the enormous amounts of stress, anger and frustration that must be endured by each spouse before the process is concluded. Whatever unpleasantness may be associated with an ordinary divorce, the pain and stress of a divorce with a special needs child is usually far greater. If the parents of a special needs child have made the irrevocable decision to terminate their marriage, the following planning cautions may help ease the turmoil experienced by the parents and by the child.

One of the first issues that must be resolved is visitation. The typical visitation schedule used in most divorces will probably not work if the family has a special needs child. Special needs children often require consistent and carefully structured lives. The non-custodial spouse should agree to visit the child on the child's own "turf." If the non-custodial spouse is unwilling or unable to do this, the custodial parent must undertake travel. Planning the travel can be difficult, especially if the child requires special equipment. Also, any visits may need to take place close to the child's principal health care professionals.

Some parents of special needs children are not aware of the details of caring for the child, such as administering medicines, monitoring the quality of food and adapting physical surroundings. Any divorce agreement should include detailed directions in these matters. Child support can be complicated by the needs of the special needs child. Allowance should be made for the cost of therapy, medical equipment, medication, special food, life insurance and the child's special education needs.

The divorce agreement should also take into account the possibility of obtaining Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance payments. Most of the benefits under these plans have strict eligibility requirements that depend in part on the child's income and assets. Care must be taken to avoid inadvertently forfeiting this eligibility. A special needs planning attorney can provide essential and beneficial advice in this regard.

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