Special Needs Expenses and Child Support

It is clear that caring for a special needs child is more expensive than caring for a child without special needs.[1] “Special needs children often require extensive services throughout their lifetime, and those services are often not covered by insurance or are limited by government assistance. Many of these children require assistance in daily living activities such as toileting, eating, bathing, grooming, dressing, communicating, mobility, and behavior management.”[2]

Because of this fact, every family law case requires an “individual assessment” of the child’s condition and expenses associated with that condition, whether expended, anticipated, or desired, to determine how best to address those costs when parents separate. Every child’s needs are unique, but among the expenses that a special needs child may require are:

  • Medical Professionals

Including, but not limited to, medical doctors and other health care providers who provide medical services for the child’s regular and special needs.

  • Therapeutic Professionals

Special needs children often have a need for specialized therapy, including speech, physical, language, occupational, sensory integration, communications, music, art, equine, behavioral, group, individual, socialization, and other therapies.

  • Other Associated Professionals

Special needs children may need professional services from providers not normally thought of as “medical” providers, such as interpreters, daily care providers (other than the parents or “baby-sitters).

  • Medications

Special needs children frequently need expensive prescriptions for their particular medical and psychological conditions.

  • Dietary Supplements

In addition to regular prescribed medications, special needs children often have special nutritional and dietary needs that require that they regularly take dietary supplements – often of a kind not regularly obtained at the local grocery store. Many special needs children have chemical imbalances for which they need these supplements. Since dietary supplements are rarely covered by health insurance plans, they may be expenses incurred special to the child’s needs.

  • Special Diets

Because some special needs children need to follow special diets (gluten-free, diabetic, lactose-free, etc.) the costs to provide day-to-day nourishment can be extremely expensive and may need considered in the household budget.

  • Therapeutic Equipment and Technology

Special needs children may need special equipment and technology for their use in the home or at school for regular life activities (e.g. wheelchair) or therapy (assistive breathing technology).

  • Assistive Technology and Equipment

Special needs children may need computers, special software, interpretive software, and other technology and equipment to assist in their interactions with others.

  • Sensory Items and Equipment

Special needs children may have sensory issues[3] (e.g. touch, movement, eating, body position, auditory, taste, sight, smell, vestibular, proprioceptive, sensorimotor) for which they may need special sensory integration items and equipment.

  • Home Modifications

The child’s home may require modification so the child can easily function within the home.

  • “Respite Care”

Parents of special needs children often spend much longer and more intensive efforts on their child.[4] But the parent still needs to carry on “regular life” activities, such as shopping. Additionally, because caring for a special needs child can be intense beyond the imagination of the parents of a “typical” child,” the parent must obtain reliable, qualified childcare by a person with some training in the child’s needs and “peculiarities,” rather than “the neighborhood babysitter.”

To determine the needs of a particular case, and the way in which the child’s special needs are considered in child support, the “standard” financial affidavit is all but useless.

[1]          Shattuck, P.T., & Parish, S.L., “Financial burden in families of children with special health care needs: Variability among states.” Pediatrics, 122, 13-18 (2008)

[2]          M.Price, The Special Needs Child and Divorce: A Practical Guide to Evaluating and Handling Cases (ABA 2009), p. 110.

[3]          C. Kranowitz,  The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Integration Dysfunction (2d ed.) (2005).

[4]          H. Perriman, Parental Reaction to the Disabled Child: Implications for Family Courts, 43 Family Court Review 596 (Vol. 4 2005).