A divorce that involves a child who has special needs requires careful calculation of child support. The divorce decree and child support provisions should provide for future needs as much as possible.
What Texas law says
The Texas Family Code states that if a child has a disability then child support can be ordered for an indefinite period. That means that it can go on beyond age 18 if the circumstances fit that need.
How long does child support most commonly continue?
Usually, child support continues until the child reaches age 18, or until the child graduates from high school, whichever comes later. Also, when a child is emancipated (has their minor child status legally changed) by getting married or by a court order, then child support is no longer required.
What will be considered in a divorce involving a child with special needs
These factors will be considered:
- Whether the child requires “substantial care and personal supervision because of a mental or physical disability.”
- Whether the child will be unlikely to be able to support him or herself independently.
- The disability, or cause of the disability, must have been known to exist prior to the child’s 18th birthday.
- Ability of each of the parents to take care of the child medically, physically and financially.
- Financial and medical needs of the child.
- Financial resources or programs that are or can be available to the child.
- As in any case involving a child, the best interests of the child.
How long will the support go on?
In some cases, it will be ordered to continue indefinitely unless and until there is a major change in the situation for the child or either party. At that point one of the parties can file a suit in family court to request a modification of the previous court orders. The Judge’s decision will not be arbitrary, but will be based on facts and on his or her analysis of what is likely to occur.
In other circumstances, the support will be ordered until age 18 or graduation from high school, whichever is later, just as if the child did not have special needs.
What you should do
If you have a child with special needs and are thinking of getting a divorce, you should discuss these concerns in detail with your attorney as soon as possible. Make sure that from day one, your attorney is informed about your child’s circumstance and has facts about his or her needs. Be certain that you gather the information that can help your lawyer advocate for the proper amount of support that will be needed for your child.
If you are already divorced, and may need a modification
If you are divorced, and have a minor child with special needs AND the court order did not award child support after age 18 or high school graduation AND you believe that your child may need child support beyond that time because of a disability, you should contact a Texas family law attorney as soon as possible. A suit can be filed in family court to request modification of orders for your child, as long as it is done in a timely manner.