Family law

Supporting children with additional needs in divorce

A child’s welfare is a priority throughout divorce proceedings. We explore how additional needs are considered and what support you have access to.

16 February 2022

Mother holding her young child

Since 1998, there’s been an increase in the recognition of Autism, ADHD and other related conditions. Research shows that more and more children are being diagnosed with these additional needs.

Reports have identified that the divorce rates are higher for those parents with autistic children. Family lawyers are often involved in supporting child arrangements when a child with additional needs is a priority through divorce. Not only could their parents’ separation change their living and care situation, but it could also have an effect on their mental health due to such adjustments.

How can I support my child's mental health during a divorce?

It’s impossible to completely avoid the effects of a divorce on children, but by taking steps to ensure your child is supported, you can help minimise the impact on them. In Children Act proceedings, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) is ordered by the court to undertake initial safeguarding enquiries and conduct preliminary investigations.

This is why it’s so important that parents inform CAFCASS as soon as possible if their child has additional needs such as autism, ADHD or a mental health issues and request an officer with relevant experience and training to work on their case. The court also has the power to make an order to delay the proceedings until the child in question has been assessed to ensure the divorce has as minimal impact as possible on a child’s mental health.

What financial help is available?

The Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 sets out a range of financial support available upon divorce. These include periodical payments, a lump sum or transfer of property. But in most financial remedy cases, maintenance for children is covered under the Child Support Act 1991 and controlled by the Child Maintenance Service.

Child maintenance is usually payable until the child reaches the age of 16, or 20 if they remain in full time non-advanced education at school or college (to the end of A-levels or equivalent, not university).

Financial provision can be extended beyond the age of 18 if there are special circumstances. These are not clearly defined but assessed on a case-by-case basis. For example, there may be special circumstances if the child in question suffers from a handicap – mental or physical – especially one which affects their dependency on others.

How does a court consider these additional needs?

A child’s welfare is always the court’s first consideration. But how does the court consider a child’s additional needs in divorce?

Without expert evidence of a child’s disability or mental health issue, judges would be reluctant to make an order for maintenance. This evidence would need to include diagnosis, term, prognosis, treatment required or recommended and the child’s needs. Expert reports contain valuable information which will help the court understand the child’s diagnosis and ongoing needs.

The court would need to see a breakdown of the additional costs related to the child’s disability, which may include:

  • Additional help
  • Food provision/board for carers and support workers
  • Additional costs of housing/adaptation of current home
  • Heating
  • Clothing
  • Respite care

It would be the resident parent’s responsibility to provide evidence of the child’s disability and needs so that the court can determine the level of maintenance needed.

How Slater and Gordon can help

Our award-winning family law team has the expertise and sensitivity to guide you through the divorce process while helping protect your child’s mental health and setting arrangements which put your child’s welfare first. If you’d like tailored support from one of our specialists in the area, contact us online or simply phone 0330 041 5869.

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