Child Support and Special Needs Children: Addressing Additional Costs

Paper family with Child Support letters and money - child support for special needs child concept

If you have a special needs child, you know they require extra attention and support. Often, that also means more expenses. You may find that a standard child support order won’t go far enough to address special needs children’s additional costs. When that happens, you will benefit from a child support attorney to help you prove your co-parent should be contributing to those expenses if your co-parent will not voluntarily agree.

Considerations for Child Support for Special Needs Children

When you are seeking child support for special needs children, it can be easy to overlook all the various expenses you incur that are related, directly and indirectly, to your child’s condition. Before you can address additional costs by filing a motion or negotiating with your child’s other parent in person or through a qualified mediator, you will need to list and add up each of the costs relating to your special needs child(ren) that are not paid by a third party, such as a school district or insurance company:

  • Specialized housing
  • Home modifications
  • Medical equipment
  • Special transportation
  • Transportation services
  • Caregivers
  • Social workers
  • Psychologists
  • Psychiatrists
  • Doctors and specialists
  • Health insurance premiums
  • Prescription drugs
  • Tutoring or special education
  • Child-care costs
  • Respite care costs

If your child support case goes to court or you are interviewed by the Friend of the Court as part of a child support review, you need to have a good idea of what these costs are, and be able to prove them. Go through your bank transaction history and identify expenses related to your child. While some will be included in the ordinary child support awarded under the Michigan Child Support Formula, others will require additional contributions from the child’s other parent.

Special Needs Child Support Calculations Fall Short

In Michigan, every child support case (or divorce or child custody case involving child support) starts with the application of the Michigan Child Support Formula. This formula is based primarily on the parties’ combined incomes, and the overnights the child spends with each parent. It is designed to cover everyday expenses including housing, food, clothing, and ordinary medical expenses. Every child support order must also set an annual amount for ordinary health care expenses, and the proportions paid by each parent for medical expenses beyond that amount.

However, in cases involving special needs children, the child support formula often falls short. It may not reflect enough for a custodial parent to pay for all the costs of tending to your child’s health and educational needs. That is because it is a generalized formula that is designed to provide consistent and predictable results to the question of how much each parent should contribute to the care of their children. Exceptional circumstances, including a child’s special needs, may require exceptional results.

For example, generally, the formula presumes that child care expenses will only continue through August 31 after the child’s 12th birthday. However, for special needs children requiring ongoing supervision, the Court can extend a parent’s obligation to contribute to child care costs based on the child’s health or safety needs.

Deviating from Basic Child Support for Special Needs Children in Michigan

Fortunately, the Michigan Child Support Formula allows for parties and the court to “deviate” from the prescribed child support amount when the circumstances demand it. Either parent can show “clear and convincing evidence” to deviate based on several factors, including:

  • The child has special needs
  • The child has extraordinary educational expenses
  • An accumulation of extraordinary medical expenses (this also applies to expenses for parents or other dependents)
  • Division of child care time that is not reflected in the overnight schedule
  • Net child care expenses exceed 50% of the parent’s base support obligation (before offsetting for parenting time)
  • Any other factors related to the child’s best interest

When a child has special needs, many of these “deviation factors” can come into play to justify modifying the formula’s prescribed child support amount. However, it will be up to you and your child support attorney to prove the reason for the deviation, most often by establishing the child’s actual medical, educational, and child care expenses.

Can You Get Child Support for Special Needs Children Over 18?

Under Michigan law, child support ends when a child turns 18 unless that child is:

  • Living full-time with the person receiving the child support
  • Regularly attending high school full time
  • Reasonably expected to graduate from high school

Even in these circumstances, child support for special needs children can only be extended to age 19 ½. Michigan is one of the few states that does not allow for court-ordered post-majority support based on a child’s special needs.

Parents can still agree to pay post-majority support voluntarily. If you and your co-parent both know that your child will need full-time care well into adulthood, you can enter into an agreement to continue child support payments after they would ordinarily end. However, if no agreement can be reached, the termination of support will be automatic and unavoidable. If you and your spouse have sufficient assets to place some funds into a trust for your special needs child, you may wish to both voluntarily agree to do so during your divorce negotiations.

At NSSSB, we are proud to serve as child support lawyers for parents in Michigan. We help parents of special needs children calculate their expenses, and advocate for a child support award that accounts for all their child’s extraordinary costs. Click here to schedule a consultation with a Southeast Michigan family law attorney at one of our offices in Ann Arbor or Bloomfield Hills.

Categories: Child Support