According to California law, the responsibility of raising a child belongs to both parents. The state sets forth guidelines for determining an appropriate amount of child support one parent must pay the other parent for the child’s maintenance. Parents supporting a child with special needs might be entitled to support under a different set of rules.
What are the child’s specific needs?
When raising a child with special needs, there are certain considerations that override child support law. These exceptions include:
The age of majority — If the child’s support needs do not end at age 18, the obligation for support continues indefinitely.
Standard of living — The law obligates both parents to maintain the child’s standard of living.
Treatment plan — Costs for caregivers, therapies and equipment might increase as a child grows.
Relocation — If a specific school district or county provides superior services, the court might grant the custodial parent’s petition to relocate solely on this basis.
Best interests of the child — The state’s primary concern is providing for the needs of the child.
Parents might not agree as to what expenses are necessary. In this case, it is prudent for the parents of a child with special needs to involve a third-party, usually a resource spreadsheet to evaluate their specific situation.
Spousal maintenance might be necessary
If one parent is the primary caregiver of a child with special needs which interfere with their ability to work outside the home, the other parent might be ordered to pay spousal support. If the child’s needs necessitate full-time care for an indefinite period of time, the court can order support to continue indefinitely. It is essential that parents who provide care for their special needs children have adequate legal representation.
The state’s child support guidelines simply do not provide for the potentially exorbitant and ongoing expenses of raising a child with special needs — a child who might never reach the age of emancipation.