Co-parenting a special needs child after divorce - Shulman Law Firm in Ontario
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Co-Parenting a Child with Special Needs: Expenses and Considerations

At the best of times co-parenting after a divorce can be a challenge.  Negotiating on what child support payments will be, to coming to terms with how all the extras will be dealt with…These can place a strain even on the most amicable of separations. The reality is: when it comes to discussions around family obligations and money, emotions can run high quickly. This conversation becomes even more challenging when caring for a child who has special needs. Are you co-parenting a child with special needs? Read on for the additional financial considerations and complexities that will need to be addressed.

What are your child’s special needs and who is the parent that will take care of the child?

Often one parent will be the primary caregiver of the child with special needs. Like parents divorcing who may be caring for young children. Parents who are divorcing may agree with who will be taking caring of the special needs. The courts may grant this parent full custody or have the child live with parent who is providing for the child’s most basic needs. It is important that you provide a full picture of what your child’s special needs are in your separation agreement. So that ongoing care is addressed in detail to ensure your child’s needs continue to be met after the separation.

For example, are you the parent who would normally take your child to their special appointments? Are their specific medications that were covered under your ex-partner’s health plan? Ones that will still need to be covered after you separate? Are specific protocols that must continue to be followed to ensure your child stays at the same level of functioning? Who will be responsible for ensuring all of the above continues after you separate?

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 What financial obligations of a parent who has a child with special needs?

Being the custodial parent of a child with special needs can often be all consuming. It can last many years after the child reaches adulthood. Keep in mind the additional expenses of caring for a special need child does not factor in caring for other children in the family as well. Having a care plan a discussed above, will also help to identify the costs associated with caring for your special needs child.

Other considerations might be required in the separation agreement. Spousal support to address the time it may take to care for your child. Potentially also child support to address needs of the other children in the household. Also consider the age of the child and the severity of the disability. You may have additional expenses you will need to factor in.  Your child may also be entitled to government supports. Be sure that your legal team includes a special needs lawyer who is familiar with the programs available to you. You should also consult a financial planner familiar with special needs to ensure investments made on your child’s behalf do not disqualify them for other support programs.

The Benefits of A Parenting Plan

A parenting plan is a written document outlining how you will parent your child with your ex as the years go by. Typically, a parenting plan will cover the following:  whether you will make decisions together or separately, how you will share information about your children with each other, and how much time you will spend with your children. This is an especially important document when dealing with a child who has special needs.

Consider most parenting plans end when the child goes off to post-secondary education. However, for a child with special needs, parenting may last a lifetime. Get on the same page with your partner on what you want care to look like for your special needs child. Especially as time goes on may help to bridge gaps when communication breaks down and disagreements happen in the future. If ground rules are in place in the parenting plan it can provide opportunities to create a compromise on circumstances that may come up. This ensures the best interests of your child continue being looked after.

Estate Planning considerations for a child with special needs

Your child with special needs may need ongoing care past your lifetime. This means that long term planning for your child is crucial.  Does your child have siblings that could oversee care for them as you and your ex- partner age?  Will you need to get outside support to care for them? And act as a custodian or trustee if either you or your ex-partner pass away?  There are also special provisions that need to be made in your estate to protect your child from losing any government benefits they would be entitled to after receiving assets from your Will.  A Henson Trust is normally used for this purpose.

The important lesson here is to have a carefully thought out plan on how your divorce or separation  will address the care of your special needs child now and for many years to come.

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