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Spousal maintenance in a divorce with a disabled child

If you and your spouse have been married for at least ten years before your divorce, you can receive spousal maintenance after your divorce. Sometimes called "alimony" or "spousal support," spousal maintenance is money that you receive from your ex-spouse after your divorce to help you meet your minimum, basic needs. This does not mean that you will return to the lifestyle you have been accustomed to or anything like that. It simply means that you will use this money to help you pay your bills and put food on the table in most circumstances.

A judge would consider your circumstances, length of the marriage, and your ability to provide for your care without maintenance assistance. A comparison would be made of your income potential vs. your spouse and any responsibilities you have in caring for your disabled child. With this in mind, you will need to track your monthly living expenses to provide to the judge so that they can determine whether or not you can meet those needs consistently.

When negotiating for spousal maintenance, what factors should you consider?

When it comes to a child with a disability or at least special health care needs, you need to be especially aware of factors that will impact your life, like the following:

-How will you, as a single parent, manage your child's day-to-day health care needs? If you have been working full time as a married person, you will need to balance your greater than ever need for income as a single person with your duty and responsibility to care for your child daily.

Consider a situation like the following that happens with regularity when it comes to being the parent of a disabled child. Since your child has been born, you have likely stayed home and taken not only care of your child but also your family home. Your spouse is the income-earner who has an education and job history that surpasses your own. You have always been okay with this because your needs have always been met, but more importantly, your child's needs have always been satisfied. This all changed when your spouse filed for divorce recently. What are you to do now?

Your need to care for your child is the first concern you likely have. Given your lack of a work history or education, you probably cannot earn anything close to what you and your child need to survive after a divorce. This needs to be considered when determining a level of spousal maintenance. There are limitations in the family code to receive spousal maintenance for more than three years. However, your past performance as a home-maker and parent, in addition to your future commitment to your child as a caretaker, should factor into your decision-making on how aggressive to negotiate in the area of spousal maintenance.

What sort of documents do you need to have handy before coming up with final orders?

You should have handy your child's care records from physicians and the log you keep that details how your child responded to particular treatment or questions that you have for your child's doctors. These pieces of information will help your attorney assist you in negotiating the different aspects of your divorce.

It is typical for parents going through a divorce to complete a rundown of their monthly income and expenses so that the other party can review them with a mediator. You will do these things as well but will be responsible for including a rundown of your child's monthly medical expenses as well. It would be impossible to accurately represent what it costs to run your household without these costs built into the equation.

Finally, it would be best if you worked to provide a mediator or judge with an estimate of the amount of time each week that you spend caring for your child versus what your spouse does. Even if your spouse is not attempting to win primary conservatorship of your child, you can still use this information to indicate that you cannot work a full-time job if you are also asking for spousal maintenance to be paid to you.

Legal tools that can assist you with caring for your child's financial needs after a divorce

Setting up a special needs trust is wise to make in conjunction with your divorce. You can set it up, so that child support payments flow directly into this trust to avoid having that support count as income for your child. You can set up the confidence to allow for you to remove the money for your child's needs as often as you need to.

Secondly, you and your spouse should consider a provision to be included in the divorce decree that orders each of you to take out life insurance policies naming the other spouse as the beneficiary. This allows you to be sure that if one of you were to pass away, the other spouse would be able to care for your child. The proceeds of that life insurance policy could be invested and hopefully generate a similar income level throughout an extended period.

How to help your disabled child transition into their post-divorce life

Divorce brings inevitable changes, which are frequently exacerbated when your child is disabled. For instance, their symptoms may worsen during times of stress and worry. If your child has behavioral problems, those may flare up when they leave the house to see their other parent. Many children have behavioral issues immediately after a divorce, so you should not feel alone in this regard.

However, to keep your child's needs foremost in your mind, I will recommend you consider the following:

Your child should be kept in a consistent and stable routine as much as possible. It will not be easy to do this, but your child will benefit significantly if you do so. Simple things like bedtimes, mealtimes, chores, play-time, etc., can be repeated regularly if you and your spouse work to be on the same page.

If your child attends therapy sessions, you may want to increase the frequency of those sessions for a short period after the divorce. Your child may feel better talking to someone who is not their parent about what is going on with them emotionally and otherwise.

Finally, I recommend keeping your comments about your ex-spouse away from your child and not exposing them to them. First of all, this is likely a court order that can carry stiff penalties if violated. A second benefit I would point out is that you want your ex-spouse to have a relationship with your child even if you are not all that happy with them at the moment. The reason being is that having the total responsibility of caring for your disabled child is not a burden that you want to bear voluntarily. By respecting your ex-spouse in front of your child, you are more likely to present a positive image of them and make it seem more attractive for your child to have a relationship. This helps you and your child in the long run.

Questions on divorced with disabled children? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

If you have any questions about proceeding with a divorce when you have a disabled child, don't hesitate to get in touch with 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. It would be our honor to sit with you and plan a method to help you and your child during this difficult time.

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