Special Needs Divorce Representation in Michigan
Divorce is an exceptionally difficult process for any family, no matter the circumstance. Families with special needs children will face especially complex considerations, with the goal of minimizing disruptions to their lives. A family lawyer who does not have a history of handling cases involving special needs may not be able to provide the level of tailored support you and your child deserve.
At the Michigan Law Center, PLLC, we specifically focus our practice on helping families with special needs children navigate issues of long-term planning and family law, including divorce. Our Michigan special needs divorce lawyers have decades of experience and frequently educate other legal professionals on these matters. We are prepared to diligently represent you in and out of the courtroom and are committed to protecting the best interests of your special needs child.
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One of the most contentious elements of any divorce tends to involve child custody. In Michigan, there are two types of custody: Physical custody refers to who the child will live with, while legal custody covers who will have a say in how the child is raised.
Parents with legal custody contribute to decisions concerning their child’s education, religious upbringing, medical treatment, and social activities. Legal custody is especially important in cases involving special needs, as parents will need to routinely make important decisions about treatment, education, and enrichment.
Parents in Michigan have a right to request joint custody, including in cases involving a special needs child. In a joint custody arrangement, the child will spend a substantial amount of time with each parent (though the split does not necessarily need to be precisely equal), and both parents will have legal custody. Under state law, a court must award joint custody when requested by both parents unless there is evidence that doing so would not be in the child’s best interest.
In resolving custody disputes, a Michigan court will primarily consider what is in the best interest of the child. If parents cannot agree on the terms of joint custody, one parent will ultimately receive sole physical custody. The judge will consider numerous factors when awarding sole custody, including the child’s relationship with each parent and each parent’s overall fitness. In divorces involving a special needs child, the judge may consider who is principally responsible for caring for the child on a day-to-day basis and who the child has a closer emotional relationship with.
If the judge decides to award sole physical custody, the noncustodial parent will receive “parenting time,” or visitation rights. The parents have an opportunity to negotiate their own parenting time schedule, but if they cannot produce one, the judge will create a schedule.
The appropriate parenting time schedule should minimize disruption and stress to the special needs child. In some cases, shorter, more frequent visits may upset a child versus longer, less frequent visits, and vice versa. You will need to work closely with your child and the appropriate professionals to determine the right solution. Our Michigan special needs divorce attorneys can work with your family to develop an optimal visitation schedule that prioritizes your child’s needs.
Child Support in a Michigan Special Needs Divorce
In the state of Michigan, both parents are responsible for financially supporting their child after a divorce. In most cases, however, only the noncustodial parent will need to make payments to the custodial parent.
Michigan uses a formula to determine a child support payment amount. This formula accounts for each parent’s income and parenting time.
The standard formula will generally not produce the amount needed to adequately support a child with special needs. Special needs children typically have heightened education and medical expenses that are not necessarily reflected in the traditional support formula. A parent has the right to challenge the support amount determined by the formula. The judge will consider all pertinent factors and seek to order an amount that is in the child’s best interest.
Property Division in a Michigan Special Needs Divorce
Michigan is an “equitable distribution” state when it comes to property division, meaning the judge will order a split that they consider to be “fair.” This means the goal is not necessarily to split property equally.
Only marital property is subject to property division in a Michigan divorce. Most assets obtained during the marriage are automatically considered marital property, regardless of who paid for it or who technically “owns” it. Separate property is not divided and includes assets that were obtained before or after the marriage. Settlements, gifts, and inheritances transferred to an individual during a marriage are also generally considered separate property. However, separate property can become marital property if it “commingles” with marital assets.
The existence of a special needs child can dramatically influence how property is ultimately divided. The custodial parent may claim that they require a greater share of assets so that they can properly care for the child. A Michigan judge will likely seriously consider these types of arguments in cases involving special needs children.
Michigan law requires parents to continue to financially support their children (and honor other divorce-related agreements, such as parenting time schedules) until they come of age. When a child has special needs, they will likely continue to require substantial levels of support and care throughout their life. Some parents will request alimony – also known as spousal support – to cover these expenses, as a parent can still be required to make payments regardless of their child’s age.
At the Michigan Law Center, PLLC, we emphasize exploring all available solutions. We can work with your family to create a long-term plan for your special needs child. This may include creating a special needs trust or implementing other tools designed to protect the financial security of your child, including after you are gone. Our Michigan special needs divorce lawyers can offer comprehensive assistance and can walk you through all of your estate planning options.
Macomb Twp., MI 48044