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Divorce and Special Needs

Divorce and the Special Needs Child

Unfortunately, the incidence of autism and autism spectrum disorders, including Asberger's Syndrome seems to be increasing in our world today as is the rate of divorce. The stress of an ASD child (Autism Syndrome Disability) can often be the straw that breaks the camel's back with regard to marriages that are already having problems.

Family courts are recognizing the special issues related to divorce when an autistic or special needs child is involved. In many cases, custody can become more than a simple matter of what is in the best interest of the child. It also can create a huge problem for the care of the child, often requiring more careful analysis by judges and attorneys.

Custody Concerns

Judges must review a parent's willingness to increase his or her education about the needs of the child and consider a parent's history of being their child's advocate. The child's need for consistency is the most urgent issue and can often complicate the "back and forth" nature of a shared custodial arrangement.

Working with therapists and other health care professionals becomes another layer that must be dealt with by the courts. Beyond the fitness of the parents, the safety of the child and quality of the child's education with either parent has to be scrutinized. One parent may not acknowledge the depth of the severity of the problem, which can cause a problem for the court.

Ensuring that the parents understand what their child's special needs are is critical. If a parent cannot address basic issues such as types of medication the child may be taking or what behavioral therapy the child may be receiving can determine whether or not that parent should be the child's custodial parent after divorce.

Impact of Costs

Even though there are Child Support Guidelines for the state of New Jersey, these may not be the best route when an autistic child is in the family. These do not take into account the additional costs that therapy, medication and specialized care may involve. Private school tuition may also be a factor for autistic or special needs children. Special additional care may be required at home, which adds to costs.

Even alimony may be impacted. For example, a parent who has the ability to get back into the workforce under normal circumstances, may not have that opportunity if he or she is caring for an autistic child at home. The court will be most concerned with the consistency of care for the child whether or not it places additional financial pressure on one party or the other.

Seek Informed Counsel

The factors the court must consider in these cases are often numerous and complex. Having an attorney who can adequately assist the court in understanding a special condition is critical. These cases require more than just the normal criteria.

Knowing that the attorney who is handling a divorce in these instances is fully versed in what a special needs child case requires can make the difference between a satisfactory outcome or one that is not.

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Cooper Levenson, P.A.
Family Law Department

Cherry Hill Office
1415 Marlton Pike East
Cherry Hill Plaza
Suite 205
Cherry Hill, NJ 08034
Phone: 856-528-0822
Fax: 856-857-5527
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Atlantic City Office
1125 Atlantic Avenue
Atlantic City, NJ 08401
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