Most parents with a special needs child who consider divorce already know that the child's medical condition could impact both child support levels and the division of assets. One thing that people are less likely to consider is the potential impact it could have on a request for alimony, which is also called spousal support or spousal maintenance. In cases where a divorcing couple has a special needs child, the proper term for your alimony is likely spousal maintenance or potentially contractual alimony.
The courts view alimony and spousal maintenance as similar but distinct. Typically, spousal maintenance gets awarded to a dependent spouse once he or she shows the court that there is either a mental or physical disability that precludes earning a sustainable income. In your case, however, you may not be able to support yourself because of the needs of your child. The courts may recognize that fact and order your former spouse to provide support so that you can establish yourself independently.
Caring for a special needs child is a full-time job
All children demand a lot of energy, effort, guidance and attention. With special needs children, the demands on the parents may be substantially higher. Staying home to provide care for your child may be much more affordable than paying for outside child care or nursing. In fact, many child care providers and centers may refuse to work with children with serious special needs, due to the amount of one-on-one care needed. Those that do will charge a premium for these services. For someone trying to get back into a professional field, costs could well outweigh any income.
Standard child care often runs at least $10 per hour. It is not unusual for special needs nursing care to cost double or more than double that amount. Unless you can quickly and easily step into a lucrative position somewhere, the financial burden of child care could consume all your income and more. Worse yet, special needs children are at higher risk of physical and sexual abuse by caretakers, making it difficult for parents to leave the child in the care of a stranger.
Contractual alimony combined with child support can help
Spousal maintenance, while helpful, is limited to a specific period of time under Texas law. Thankfully, child support for special needs children could extend well beyond that period. During the process of dividing your assets, you may be able to negotiate to have a portion of the assets owed to you repaid as a monthly contractual alimony payment. This helps ensure you have regular income while you continue to care for your special needs child.
The longer your marriage and the more expensive the needs of your child, the harder it will be to secure childcare and return to the workforce. Contractual alimony can help protect you and your child and ensure a basic standard of living for you both after the divorce.