Special Needs Family Law Representation in Michigan
Families with special needs children face unique challenges, even in the best of times. Parents must make every effort to protect the well-being and long-term financial security of their special needs child when they are navigating a divorce or any other conflict involving family law.
Our team at the Michigan Law Center, PLLC can offer strategic guidance and knowledgeable advocacy in this highly specific area. Our Michigan special needs family lawyers have decades of collective legal experience and understand how to effectively approach many types of complex disputes, including divorce proceedings. Our priority is protecting the needs of your child, and we will leverage the full extent of our resources to deliver favorable outcomes.
MLC is definitely the place to go for your estate planning, elder & dependent care legal needs.Nicholas B.
In a divorce, parents will need to decide matters of child custody, support, and property division. Disagreements are common, and if parents cannot agree, a Michigan judge will review the circumstances of the case and make decisions for them. A special needs child will heavily factor into how the court will approach and resolve these disputes.
Our Michigan special needs family attorneys can assist with all divorce-related conflicts, including those involving:
- Custody. In Michigan, there are two types of custody: Physical custody and legal custody. When a parent has legal custody, they make decisions concerning their child’s medical treatment, education, enrichment, and upbringing. Physical custody determines who the child will live with. Joint custody is encouraged under state law, but the court will order an arrangement that it believes to be in the child’s best interest. In cases involving a special needs child, the judge will strongly consider who the child is most comfortable with and who primarily manages the child’s day-to-day care, in addition to other factors. If sole custody is awarded, the noncustodial parent will receive “parenting time.” This visitation arrangement should be tailored to minimize disruptions and suit the child’s emotional needs.
- Support. The noncustodial parent is generally required to make direct payments to the custodial parent until the child comes of age. Though Michigan uses a universal formula to determine an initial child support amount, these calculations will often not reflect the higher costs of caring for a special needs child. A parent has the right to contest the initial amount, especially if a special needs child has ongoing education and medical expenses that warrant a greater level of support. A parent can also request spousal support – also known as alimony – and use any awarded payments to care for their special needs child after they become an adult.
- Property Division. Marital property is equitably divided in a Michigan divorce, meaning the split must be “fair.” An equal, 50/50 split between parents is not guaranteed. The custodial parent in a case involving a special needs child may request a greater share of marital assets so that they can sufficiently provide for the child in the years to come.
Modifying Divorce Orders in Michigan
Both parents are legally required to honor all terms of a Michigan divorce order once it has been issued. A parent will face stiff penalties should they refuse or fail to allow ordered visitation or make support payments. Elements of a divorce order can be changed under certain circumstances, however.
If parents agree on a change to a custody or support order, they can present the proposed modification to the court for approval. If a judge agrees it is in the best interest of the child, they will typically allow the change. For example, parents of a special needs child quickly realize that the initial parenting time schedule is upsetting the child to the point where they are struggling in school. As a result, they negotiate a new parenting time schedule that will give the child more time with each parent.
If parents disagree on a change, one of the parents will need to petition the court for a modification. A parent cannot request a change only because they do not agree with the initial decision. For a Michigan court to grant a modification, the petitioning parent must prove there has been a significant change in circumstances. For example, the custodial parent may request additional child or spousal support if their special needs child’s condition worsens, leading to higher medical expenses. Our team at the Michigan Law Center, PLLC can help you understand your options if you believe a modification is necessary.
Long-Term Planning for Special Needs Children in Michigan
Part of caring for a child with special needs is taking proactive steps to think about their future – including after you are no longer around to support them. Many adults with special needs cannot typically handle their own affairs. In these situations, they will need a guardian and conservator who are legally responsible for them. A guardianship handles a special needs person’s day-to-day needs, while a conservator oversees their property.
A person can serve as someone’s conservator and guardian, and a parent will often serve as their special needs adult child’s conservator and guardian until they are no longer able to do so themselves. However, parents do not automatically become their special needs child’s conservator and guardian when they turn 18. When a special needs child comes of age, a parent’s legal authority over their child disappears, even if the child still needs ongoing assistance. A parent will need to go through the process of requesting a conservatorship and/or guardianship from the applicable court.
Estate planning, including special needs planning, is another important part of long-term care. In your estate plan, you can express your preference for who should become your special needs child’s conservator and/or guardian after you pass away or become incapacitated. You can also implement estate planning instruments, such as a special needs trust, that will work to financially provide for your child long after you are gone. Your child’s conservator and/or guardian will be responsible for managing these arrangements.
Obtaining a conservator or guardianship can be difficult. Whether you are a parent or another relative looking to care for a loved one, our Michigan special needs family lawyers can assist you throughout the petitioning process and represent you in any disputes.
Macomb Twp., MI 48044