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Supporting a Child with Special Needs

In the state of New York every parent has an obligation to provide support for his or her children until the age of 18. The definition of support includes basic needs such as food, shelter, medical care, education and clothing. When a family has a child with special needs, this definition expands to include the specific needs of that child. Divorced parents have an obligation to provide for a child with special needs in whatever way necessary, even if the need extends beyond the 18th birthday. 

In what ways might I need to support my child? 

In every divorce case that involves minor children, all determinations of the divorce agreement are predicated on what is in the best interest of the child. If one parent is the full-time caregiver or is significantly closer to the child, that parent is in the best position to represent the needs of the child. Both parents share the obligation to meet these needs, which may include: 

  • Educational needs — including tutors, supplementary programs, private school tuition, specific computerized tools 
  • Physical needs — modified chair, bed, restroom, special clothing, railings, braces, crutches, prostheses, cochlear implants, special service dog 
  • Medical needs — physical therapy, occupational therapy, surgery, medications, alternative treatments 
  • Psychological needs — psychotherapy, psychiatric care, medication, group therapy, therapeutic pet, hospitalizations 

The ability and willingness to understand the specific needs of the child and to meet those needs is an essential factor in providing appropriate care. In addition to these basic needs, divorcing parents should attempt to understand the child’s resiliency to change and to explain the changing circumstances to the best of their ability. 

The needs of the child may change 

The obligation to support a child with special needs may change as the child grows. If the current agreement becomes inadequate, the parents can return to court to seek a modification in support orders. In general it is understood that the financial obligation to support does not end at 18 in the case of a child who might never reach financial independence. 

If you are the parent of a child with special needs and have questions concerning your financial obligations, be in touch with us. A skilled and compassionate divorce attorney can advocate for you within the special circumstances of your family.

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