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There Are Unique Issues in a Divorce with Adult Special Needs Children 

Some several medical conditions and disorders affect children and as they become adults their needs and challenges can change. Special needs can be physical, developmental, behavioral, and sensory-impaired. Some children are born with special needs and in others, they develop later in life.  On a range of abilities to cope with stress and change, a divorce with adult special needs children requires several additional steps.  

When getting a divorce in Texas, there are additional considerations to protect the best interests of adult special needs children in the family. First, understand that in no way does having a special needs child prevent a couple from divorcing if the marriage is no longer able to be rehabilitated and repaired. Staying together because there is a special needs child, especially an adult, does not make it easier on anyone, rather it can further complicate existing problems.  

Mental health professionals working with adult children with special needs can be consulted before the divorce to make a game plan that considers the limitations and conditions of the child so that the disruption to their life is minimal. In the divorce, child support is calculated and ordered in the manner best providing resources for the special needs child. Spousal maintenance may also be ordered when the custodial parent is a full-time caregiver of an adult special needs child.  

Protecting Adult Special Needs Children and Their Best Interests in a Divorce 

Negotiating child custody and visitation with a child with special needs may require the use of mental health professionals who work with families with minor and adult special needs children. Depending on the individual medical conditions and disorders, caring for the child may be different as they age and grow into adulthood. Knowing what a day in the life may be like in the future is important in negotiating a parenting plan. Planning for an unknown future requires thinking ahead and having plans in place if things do not go as planned.  

Possession and access and visitation may need to adjust on an annual or even a monthly basis depending on the changing needs of the child. Parental rights and duties are also something that can be reviewed and adjusted as the needs of the child change, especially when they are transitioning into adulthood.  

Mental health professionals can help the family and their attorney understand long-term needs and care. This helps in creating estate planning and parenting arrangements. Mental health counseling for the family can also help everyone with transitions. Depending on the individual child, their reaction to a significant life change like a divorce can be much more difficult to handle.  

eParent Article: 5 Ways to Advocate for a Child with Special Needs During a Divorce

Limitations in Social and Coping Skills to Handle Divorce 

Divorce and child custody issues are difficult on all children, and everyone has different coping skills to handle divorce. But, when caring for adult special needs children, those social and coping skills can be put to the test, and sometimes that minor, or adult child has an extreme reaction. An autistic child, for example, might appear to be adjusting on the surface, but there can be outbursts and shutdowns on the way. In another example, a child with an emotional disorder might have a difficult time adjusting to a new school and social setting, leading to behavioral issues at school and home.  

Minimizing the risk of upsetting a minor or adults special needs child requires understanding all the elements of life changes that are going to take place with the divorce and those need to be discussed among the attorneys, parents, and mental health providers, doing the best to take the sting and shock out of major life changes.  

Child Support and Spousal Maintenance in Divorce with Adult Special Needs Children  

In Texas, the Court may order either or both parents to provide for the support of a disabled child for an indefinite time based on the Court’s findings. The Court makes findings of whether the child will be able to at any time self-support themselves, whether institutionalized or not. Where the disability exists before the child’s 18th birthday, the Court orders support for the child to be paid to the custodial parent. The Court may also designate a special needs trust providing that support be paid directly to the trust instead of the state disbursement unit.  

When the Court determines a party’s eligibility to receive spousal maintenance when that parent is the custodian of a child of the marriage of any age, requiring substantial care and personal supervision because of a physical or mental disability parenting the spouse from earning sufficient income to provide for their reasonable needs. Also, in certain situations, it may be appropriate to determine if the needs of the child should impact the division of the marital estate. As well, ask your lawyer about obtaining additional social security disability benefits from the Federal government, and any other assistance programs. 

Special Needs Alliance Article: Divorce and Children with Special Needs

Special Needs Trusts for Adult Children  

When determining the available resources to pay for the needs of a minor or adult special needs child, money may be coming from child support, spousal maintenance, part of the community estate, Social Security disability, Medicaid, and whatever other sources, and a certain amount of that money can be directly paid to a special needs trust or a supplemental needs trust.  

In a special needs trust, the trustee holds and manages the assets for the beneficiary child. The trustee is responsible for making financial distributions and making payments as needed. A special needs trust is important because, without that formality, the money received by the child could be considered income, affecting eligibility for Social Security benefits.  

Need advice on divorce with adult special needs children? Contact the Barrows Firm in Southlake at (817) 481-1583