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Special Needs Children & Marital Settlement Agreements

Posted By Attorney Jim Cairns || 15-Oct-2012

When working out a marital settlement agreement with your spouse, consider the current and future special needs of your child. This includes what happens when your child becomes an adult. Your special needs child will benefit greatly if you and your spouse take the time to work in a collaborative manner. Otherwise the situation can become quiet traumatic for your child and cause long-term damage.

When determining the child visitation schedule with your spouse, remember to pay close attention to the needs of your child. All children need consistency and solid structure in their lives, especially special needs children. Moving between homes can make children feel destabilized. Transitions for special needs children, especially if they do not understand the concept of time, can add to a child's confusion.

If your child will be traveling between homes after your divorce, consider what they will need when traveling and when they are living in the second home. Some items to take into account include being close to a medical facility and any necessary medical equipment. This includes medical equipment for moving the child between homes and equipment that needs to be in both homes in order for your child to be comfortable. Take time to consider the details. This is especially important if one parent has been the primary caretaker. The non-caretaking parent may not know how to handle certain situations such as:

  1. Special diets;
  2. How to administer medication;
  3. Managing behavior (including potential triggers); and
  4. Preferences of a non-verbal child.

Consider how education will be handled once your are divorced. Will your child be starting in a new school? Are there special considerations that need to be put in place for the child's new school, including the signing of legal papers? Will both parents have legal custody of the child? Will one parent sign school papers or will your agreement require for both parents to sign-off? Some other questions you may want to answer consider in the educational section of your marital settlement agreement include:

  1. How will additional educational needs be handled?
  2. If your child requires additional tutoring, which parent will pay for it?
  3. Does transportation need to be included in your agreement? If so, will a parent be compensated for time spent transporting the child, gas money, special transportation arrangements for school and other activities?

Another useful tool that can be written into your marital settlement agreement is the use of software for keeping track of your child's schooling. Technological tools can be a great way to reduce potential conflict between parents. Programs such as Our Family Wizard allows both parents to have access to the latest medical records, school information and a joint calendar for easier schedule coordination between parents. You may not want to specify the software program, but have an agreement to use one and spell out what the program should include. Technology changes quickly and it would be prudent to keep your options open.

A parenting coordinator can be useful during times of conflict for divorced parents. a parenting coordinator is a person who is familiar with your marital settlement agreement, thereby allowing him or her to effectively work with both parents. The parenting coordinator is a standby for communication and decision making. Keep in mind this should be a neutral third-party.

Attorney Jim Cairns offers a free questionnaire to get started with your marital settlement agreement. In addition, please feel free to visit the Marital Settlement Agreement section in our blog for more ideas on how to create your personalized and specific marital agreement with your spouse.

For further reading on divorce and special needs children consider the book Divorce and the Special Needs Child: A Guide for Parents. The book includes a checklist and further resources. If you have other reading or software suggestions please share them with our parents in the comments section below.