How do I mediate support for my special needs child

By Linda F. Spiegel
November 29, 2013
NJ FAQ/Child Support

"A quarter of U.S. households have a member with special needs. More than 8% of kids under 15 have a disability, and half of those are deemed severe."

If you have a child with special needs you should give that information to your mediator at your initial consultation session. It will enable the mediator to work with you and your spouse to construct a child support solution that will be in the best of interest of your special needs child rather than only using the child support guidelines "fill in the blanks" child support scenario (see my January, 2013 blog on Child Support guidelines at www.divorcemediationnj.wordpress.com.

The mediator will need to know the specific special need or needs and what is currently being done by you, your spouse, or others, to assist your special needs child. Is the child taking medications on a regular basis? What is the name of the medication and the reason for the prescription? Does the child receive therapy? What is the type of therapy and the reason the therapy was recommended and initiated. Does the child have an Individual Education Plan (IEP) at school? Show the IEP to the mediator. Does the child have any issues at school such as poor grades, behavior problems or social problems? Does your child have limitations on his/her activities? What are the limitations and why have the limitations been implemented? Answers to all these questions will allow the mediator to understand your situation.

In addition to the general medical and psychological information about the particular special need, the mediator needs to know how the child's special need impacts the family financially. You should be prepared to provide the mediator with costs for caregivers, health insurance, non-covered medical costs, modifications of the family home and vehicle. Be prepared to discuss how caring for the child impacts on the work schedule for both parents. All this information is necessary in reaching a financial outcome for you and your spouse which will take into account the best interest of the child. If you have not dealt with these financial issues prior to consulting with the mediator, consultation with a financial planner who is a specialist in special needs will be of great assistance during the mediation. Your mediator should be able to assist you in finding such a financial planner.

After meeting with the financial planner you and your spouse should be able to provide the mediator with a list of costs pre-existing the divorce and a projection of costs subsequent to the divorce arising out of your child’s special needs. A typical list may include "therapy, equipment, medications, supplements, dietary costs, sensory items, respite care, professionals, modifications to the home environment ... transportation to out-of-town hospitals or sources of treatment or care, extra laundry, babysitting of siblings while the needs of the special needs child are being addressed" and adult assistance to complete activities of daily living such as "toileting, eating, bathing, grooming, dressing, communicating, mobility and behavior management."[

This financial data is necessary, together with the household income and any governmental assistance available to you for your child’s special needs in order to intelligently discuss child support.

  1. Jeff Howe, Paying for Finn: A special-needs child, http://money.cnn.com/2013/05/01/pf/autism-costs.moneymag/index.html
  2. Margaret Price, Special Needs and Disability in Custody Cases: The Perfect Storm, 46 Family Law Quarterly 177 at 186 (Summer 2012).

Linda F. Spiegel has over 30 years experience as a family lawyer and more than 24 years experience in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). Linda has the diverse background to make sure you achieve a fair division of assets and equity in mediation.  

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November 29, 2013
Categories:  FAQs

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