Divorce and Children with Special Needs: Financial Settlements
In our third article on separation and the SEN child, Director Anne Leiper looks at what need to be taken into consideration when working towards your financial settlement.
Everyday financial pressures are never far from the minds of parents of SEN children. These pressures can contribute to mounting tensions in the relationship, and any subsequent decision to separate.
Financial considerations for your SEN child
Any financial settlement you and your ex-partner agree on should ensure that your SEN child is fully provided for. You will need to consider a whole host of practical, logistical and long-term care issues, including:
1. Who your child will live with (the resident parent)
2. Where they will live (family home or new property)
3. How you will co-parent your child (two households)
4. Specialist transport requirements
5. Benefits and other payments available
6. Long-term care provision into adulthood and beyond
Let’s look at these in more detail.
1. Who will be the resident parent?
This is a key question, as being the resident parent will inevitably involve much of the everyday care for your SEN child. This involves both a financial shift and a practical one too, as there is one less person to help with everyday family tasks such as taking other children to school, shopping, cleaning and much more. Your financial settlement should consider the possible need for financing extra help for the resident parent, such as a cleaner, gardener or taxis to school.
Caring for an SEN child takes time, so you may not be able to work full time, or only be able to earn a limited income. Even with the legal requirement for employers to offer parents with a disabled child a flexible working pattern, as a single parent, any time-intensive care can make working life difficult.
If as the resident parent you decide to employ a carer, this also will have an impact on your earning capacity. The current shortage of healthcare professionals may also restrict the amount of specialist carers and/or support workers available, which in turn may restrict the number of hours you can work.
2. Where will your child live?
As we mentioned in our previous article, for parents with SEN children, the family home is more than just a house.
- It provides a secure and familiar environment for children with special needs
- It may be adapted to suit the child’s access/mobility needs, including adapted access, bathrooms, ground floor bedrooms, etc
- There might also have specially installed / ‘built-in’ medical equipment such as hoists, oxygen supplies, etc.
The family home may also be more practical in that it is close to the child’s current school, their GP, care and health workers, support team, and of course, their friends.
Any financial settlement should therefore recognise the additional ‘value’ of the family home as the best possible accommodation for a SEN child. What’s more, should the house be sold, the considerable costs of these modifications would probably not be reflected in its market value.
3. Co-parenting a SEN child
Co-parenting arrangements may (and indeed should) involve your child spending time at the non-resident parent’s home. This can be challenging if the non-resident parent home doesn’t replicate the facilities at the resident parent’s / family home. So, an allowance for the need to adapt or upgrade future homes should be reflected in any financial agreement.
Your financial settlement should also consider the ‘hidden’ costs in running two homes. An autistic or SEN child may need the comfort and reassurance of familiar possessions, clothes, bedtime routines, particular foods, etc.
The agreement should also include provision for respite care for the resident parent, and extra emergency care should one parent contract COVID or be required to self-isolate, for example.
4. Specialist transport requirements
Your SEN child may require adapted transport for their wheelchair or other mobility requirements. If the resident parent keeps the family’s adapted vehicle, for example, the non-resident may require one of their own, or have the need for specialist disabled taxis taken into consideration in the financial settlement.
5. State benefits and other sources of financial help
There are a range of benefits and tax credits available to help those caring for a SEN child including:
- Disability Living allowance (DLA)
- Carer's Allowance
- Universal Credit
- Income Support
Any changes in non-earned income after you separate should be accounted for in your divorce financial agreement. It’s important to note that the benefits and support for SEN children changes at age 18, and they can opt to claim benefits in their own right. Their Education, Health and Care (EHC) assessment plan will also change.
6. Long-term care provision
Assessing the potential financial impact of long-term care for a SEN child can be difficult. The cost calculation will be dependent on when it is anticipated that the child will reach the age of independence, and if so, when they might:
- transition to adult services
- go to a residential school
- move into supported living / specialist accommodation
As a demographic, SEN children have a lower earning potential and many remain living at home for longer. Sadly, the availability of supported living schemes, residential care home or shared lives schemes is limited, so SEN young adults often need to live at home longer. This should be reflected in the divorce financial settlement so that one parent is not significantly disadvantaged in the future.
One area of potential dispute can arise when one parent thinks that a residential placement would be best for their child, but the other does not.
A court will always rule in the best interests of a child when considering child arrangements, and therefore will have to agree with one party on this issue. This situation has considerable financial implications, especially if the full cost of residential care would not be met by your local authority under the EHC.
If you need to go to court to dispute a financial settlement, it is crucial that these issues are addressed at an early stage. It’s also important that the court is equipped with proper evidence in support of your case. Taking legal advice early on will give you the opportunity to discuss your options, and assemble and required information in good time. Call us to discuss your situation.
Financial settlements without going to court
With so involved, any financial agreement is going to need time and careful consideration. It also needs to be done in a timely fashion so your child can enjoy continuity of care.
At LGFL, we have helped separating parents reach financial agreements through a process of mediation and collaborative law. Mediation involves you both working with a mediator to come to an agreement between you that works for all the family. This can be through mediated in-person meetings, or in separate locations with your legal team to hand.
This type of ‘hybrid mediation’ avoids face-to-face confrontations, and can even take place online via video conferencing. For more information,
- see our hybrid mediation article
Separate with less stress
If you’d like to discuss your situation, contact us to book your initial 1-hour online consultation with 30 minutes free. Our online consultations are popular with carer-parents as you don’t need to leave home or arrange extra childcare to access our expert advice.
- Call us
- Email us