In Michigan, divorcing parents are legally obligated to support their children until they reach age 18 years or until they graduate from high school, whichever occurs later, provided the child graduates by age 19 ½ years and is enrolled in a program that will lead to a diploma. There are no exceptions for children who have special needs and may require continuing support past age 19 ½ years or past high school.
Divorcing parents can agree to do more for their children than the law requires. They can agree to support their children for as long as they wish. However, even good parents can lose the focus of working in the best interests of their children when they are caught up in a high conflict divorce. Often the primary caretaker parent may fear that he or she will lose the support of the other parent and be left as the sole support of their special needs child after the divorce.
Collaborative practice is a child-focused process that helps divorcing couples retain control over the divorce process. With the help of their attorneys and a neutral child specialist (usually a psychologist who is trained in the development of special needs children), parents can carefully examine the specific needs of their child. They can also realistically develop a plan for how they will meet the emotional and financial needs of their child. The child specialist can also help the parents fashion parenting plans that promote having both parents involved in caring for the child post-divorce.
Families caring for special needs children are often disappointed to find that the law was not written to provide post-majority help for their child. Even if the judge wanted to, he or she would not be permitted to order support beyond what the law allow permits. Parents who want to provide care for special needs children need to work with such court-avoiding processes as Collaborative Practice.