While many people think that determining the amount of a child support obligation is a matter of simply plugging numbers into a formula, this isn't necessarily true. Many parents have extenuating circumstances that may require a deviation from the usual calculations. One common example is when a divorcing couple has one or more special needs children.
The Initial Child Support Determination
When you go through the divorce process, your attorney helps you figure out whether child support will be a factor and who will be paying whom. Things usually taken into consideration include the physical custody arrangement and the income and earning potential of both parents. However, in divorce cases involving special needs children, there are more factors to consider. There may be extensive medical costs for procedures, medications or equipment, care providers and/or the need for a parent to stay home full-time. These issues should be brought up during the initial child support determination step so that the support award is made on a well-informed basis.
Making Modifications Down the Line
You may also find that something changes in your child's situation years after the initial child support determination is made. In this case, it's possible to ask the courts for a modification. Courts in some states consider modifications every so often — usually every three years or so — if you request it. However, if you feel there has been enough change in circumstances before that period has passed, you must have documentation to support your claim, such as medical records and care receipts. Child support modifications are usually handled through your state child support enforcement agency, but if either you or your ex don't agree with the agency's decision, you have the option to appeal and bring the modification request before the judge.
Child Support for Adult Children with Special Needs
Usually child support payments stop when a child turns 18 or graduates from high school. In the case of a special needs child, the courts may make an exception and order that support continue even after the child has reached adulthood. It's important to understand that this is usually only granted for cases in which the child is truly unable to support himself, and the basis for these exceptions varies greatly by state. This is another situation where you'll likely need to provide a medical history and other documentation to support your argument that child support needs to extend into adulthood.
If you're thinking about or already in the process of getting a divorce and have a special needs child, it's important to be aware of the potential complications that may arise in your case. For example, the parent paying child support may balk at the idea of an upward deviation or having to pay support for an adult child, but understanding your rights and options can make a difference as your case plays out in court.