From my experiences working for the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, I have come to realize and appreciate that marriages can end even after both spouses have put in a lot of effort to maintain the relationship. It can be an extremely emotional time for parents like you who need to separate themselves from their spouse. If you are a parent of a child with a disability then it can be even more of a challenge.
There are so many factors to consider for a person in your position compared to a parent going through a divorce in most circumstances. With monthly, weekly or even daily medical attention needed for your child you may be concerned with whether or not you will be able to have any say-so in the decision making surrounding this subject.
On a practical level, is your child able to travel safely between your home and wherever your spouse ends up living? Is it going to be a difficult logistical situation to allow your child to get into a vehicle to make the drive? Sometimes the exertional requirement of getting up out of the house and into a vehicle can be too much on certain days. The last thing you want to do is put your child through any undue stress or hardship.
Finally- related to the medical treatment that we discussed earlier- are you going to be able to afford all of the necessary medical expenses associated with caring for your child now that you will be in a single income household? What if your spouse is not as willing as he or she has always been to this point as far as paying medical bills and providing transportation? How will this work out once your divorce has completed?
I can tell you that while your concerns are certainly heartfelt and legitimate, you are not the only parent who is worrying about these things right now. Today’s blog post will discuss some concepts for you to think about as you move toward divorce. Worrying is one thing- but to worry and not plan is another. My hope is to assist you in planning for life after your divorce bearing in mind the specific needs of your child.
Getting a divorce means getting orders from a judge regarding custody and other subjects
The end result of a divorce is that you and your spouse will both sign a Final Decree of Divorce that contains all of the provisions associated with your children and your property. These are the marching orders that you and your spouse will abide by once your divorce has become finalized. Visitation, a possession schedule, orders regarding child support as well as specific provisions for your disabled child will need to be included in the decree.
Child Support needs to be considered as especially important when it comes to your disabled child
Let’s assume that you are named as the primary conservator of your child during the divorce. This means that you are to be awarded the right to designate the primary residence of your child and able to receive child support payments from your ex-spouse. While this is a common set up for parents after a divorce you should start to think now about what you would like your final decree to read in terms of your ability to care for your disabled child.
For instance, most child support orders stop once your child graduates from high school or turns 18, whichever occurs later in time. However, your child may need financial assistance and support for the entirety of their adult life or at least for a period of time after the age of 18. As a result you need to negotiate for and obtain an order that allows you to receive child support for whatever period of time you believe is necessary to meet your child’s minimum basic needs. In a perfect world your ex-spouse would readily agree to this based on a mutual understanding that your child needs it and is in their best interests. Unfortunately this is not always the case you need to be prepared to push for this and negotiate for it in mediation.
Additional costs that your child will incur due to their disability will need to be factored into the specific amount of child support that you receive. In most situations, 20% of your ex-spouse’s net monthly income will be paid as child support. However, this may not take into consideration the sum total of your child’s needs and continued care. If you cannot negotiate for a higher than guidelines level of support then you should know that if you present sufficient evidence to warrant it a judge can award this in a trial. This is something that you and your attorney determine is worth going to trial over.
Handling custody agreements with a disabled child
The word “custody” as we commonly know it is actually not utilized once in our Texas Family Code. What custody refers to, generally speaking, is a combination of visitation and possession of your child. A custody agreement discusses where your child will live primarily. Also, and this is just as important, the agreement will dictate which parent will be able to make decisions for your child in terms of their medical care and education.
Typically, parents like yourself will share in the decision making responsibilities. This is relevant to you because your child will likely require changes and updates to their treatment regimen with regularity. Some of these changes can only be arrived at after thoughtful discussion. Are you going to have as much say-so as you believe is necessary to protect your child’s best interests? If your child were to be diagnosed with a new condition you would likely want to make sure that you are able to select their care schedule and physician. This portion of your divorce decree concerns those topics.
Finally, many custody agreements place restrictions on where your child can live. For example, if your divorce is in Harris County then it is common to have a geographic restriction that limits your child to being able to live in Harris and its contiguous counties (counties that border Harris). That geographic restriction is lifted if you choose to live outside the area after your ex-spouse has moved. The restriction is important for your family in that caring for your child will likely be a team effort rather than something that you do on your own.
What is a parenting plan?
A parenting plan details what is necessary for your child’s daily care and goes into some detail on how you and your ex-spouse will “co-parent” your child after the divorce. For many parents this is a section that is included in the decree and not given much thought to after that. For you, as the parent of a child with a disability, this section should have special meaning since you will want to ensure that your child receives consistent and reliable care no matter which parent he or she is with.
You can be as detailed as you would like and I recommend that you do so. If you are more comfortable including special instructions on how medical equipment works, how often a particular medication needs to be administered, or how to utilize a particular assistive device like a walker then it is your prerogative to include that in the parenting plan. Your divorce decree should not be cookie cutter. It should take into account your specific circumstances. Remember that all of your efforts are being undertaken in order to help your child live their best life.
Spousal maintenance and other tips for handling a divorce with a disabled child will be posted tomorrow
We will continue to discuss important attributes of a divorce involving a disabled child in tomorrow’s blog post. In the meantime if you have any questions regarding this subject or any other in family law please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC. We offer free of charge consultations six days a week with one of our licensed family law attorneys.