Parents of children with special needs have the dual responsibilities of caring for their child’s basic requirements and providing for their specialized conditions. Often, looking after their children means becoming an expert on the available medical care, education, and therapeutic services as well as spending countless hours advocating for their well-being.
When families in this situation divorce, their child’s future support will be a critical issue.
Wisconsin law allows courts to consider numerous elements in calculating child support. The court’s central focus is making sure that the child’s best interest is served by having the resources they require for their care and needs.
When deciding the appropriate support amount for a child with special needs, the court could set a support total that is beyond the usual calculation. The law provides that upon the request of a party, the court may consider deviating from the standard child support percentage. If, after considering several factors, the court finds that the use of the standard percentage is unfair to the child or to any of the parties, it may order a different amount.
Some of the issues that the court may examine include the child’s physical, mental, and emotional health needs; their educational requirements; what the child’s standard of living would have been if the parents had not divorced; and the desirability of the custodian remaining in the home to parent on a full-time basis.
Age of Majority
Wisconsin law requires that an obligated parent pay court-ordered child support for their child until they turn 18 or 19 if the child is still working on completing high school or its equivalent. The law does not currently require a parent to pay child support beyond the age of majority even when the child will most assuredly need financial support into adulthood.
However, when a child has a significant physical or mental disability that is anticipated to prevent them from being self-sustaining, parents can enter into a voluntary support agreement that extends beyond the statutory limit.
The divorce court has the discretion to award a party spousal maintenance (alimony). One issue the court can examine is whether a parent will need to remain at home full-time to provide for their children’s custodial responsibilities.
When a custodial parent is devoted to their child’s special needs, the court could take this into consideration and award a higher or longer support amount to the parent so that they will be better equipped to provide for their child’s requirements.
Going through a divorce while trying to anticipate and provide for your child’s special needs can be overwhelming. Ideally, you and your former partner will both be able to put your differences aside and come to agreements that support your child’s well-being and long-term care needs.
A good place to begin is by consulting with a knowledgeable family law attorney who is well-prepared to help you examine the situation thoroughly and work towards finding the right solutions.