North Carolina Special Needs Custody

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Special Needs Custody Attorneys In North Carolina

Child resting her head on a notebook

If you are trying to determine custody when you have a special needs child it is not easy. There are several factors that the courts must weigh before custody can be established, and you need to understand each of these factors. These factors include handling disabilities, such as managing social security disability income, special educational needs, physical needs, and other aspects of what is in the child’s best interests.

Child custody cases are already complicated and emotional. The situation becomes more difficult when children with intellectual disabilities, autism, ADHD, or physical disabilities are in the picture. Learn how the North Carolina special needs custody attorneys at Melone Hatley, P.C. will help in your case.

How Is Child Custody Determined in Charlotte, North Carolina?

The guiding principle for all family courts in North Carolina is what is in the best interests of the child. This standard means that every mediator, judge, and advocate in the system is supposed to consider how any parenting plan will impact your children, and any decisions they make will be based on ensuring that your child remains healthy with all their needs met.

The goal is to preserve the child’s standard of life during and after the parents’ split unless the child is already in a bad situation. Every decision made will be in the interest of maintaining the security, mental and emotional health, and happiness of the child.

Child Support for Special Needs Children in Charlotte, North Carolina

When calculating child support, the laws and codes of North Carolina do not differentiate between a disabled child and a child without special needs. This means child support will be calculated in a similar manner to that in any other divorce. This can create issues for parents because children with special needs may require additional health care, medication, and even equipment that can be expensive.

The best way to ensure that the courts consider your child’s special needs is to present them as “extraordinary expenses.” Courts are permitted to deviate from state child support guidelines. This means if you can convince the judge that the special needs are important, additional support may be granted. You will, however, need to show the court that you have exceptional childcare costs, such as extra medical expenses, full time care, or anything else necessary for the health and wellness of your child.

The family law and planning attorneys at Melone Hatley are here to help you make sure that your child’s needs are met. Contact our Charlotte law firm at 980-288-8909 or use our online contact form to schedule an appointment for legal advice with a member of our team today.

What Happens When a Special Needs Child Turns 18?

Mother and her special needs daughter writing together

Generally, when a child turns 18, they become a legal adult in North Carolina. This means that the noncustodial parent no longer needs to make child support payments. This is true even if the child’s disability means they cannot care for themselves. While in some cases the parent may choose to continue providing support, the law does not require them to do so.

The only exceptions to this rule are if there is a pre-existing contract that states otherwise or if the child is still in school at the age of 18. If the latter applies, when the child graduates, fails to make progress toward graduation, stops going to school regularly, or reaches the age of 20, the child support will stop.

The law makes civil rights allowances for what constitutes reasonable progress for children attending public schools. Essentially, children cannot be punished for getting a public education because they have a disability or special needs. Schools are required to create individualized education programs (IEPs) to account for special needs. IEPs can be an important factor in ensuring that a child with special needs makes reasonable progress toward graduation.

If the adult special needs child’s impairments or disabilities render them unable to care for themselves, parents might apply to become the appointed legal guardians of the child, which allows them to continue making legal decisions to preserve the child’s well-being. This allows the family courts to continue to issue or change custody orders for adult children with special needs if necessary.

SSI Benefits for Your Special Needs Children

Supplemental security income forms

Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, is a form of government benefits under Social Security disability that can be a vital form of help for parents who have additional expenses for a special needs child. SSI can provide cash payments every month to meet the basic needs of children who meet the eligibility requirements of having a physical or mental disability and whose parents or guardians have limited financial resources.

To qualify for SSI benefits, the child must have a condition that seriously limits their ability to engage in normal activities, and the condition has to last or be expected to last a minimum of one year or end in death. Applications for SSI benefits can be completed online, by phone, or by visiting your local SSI office. You begin by collecting information regarding your child’s disability and filling out a report that includes a release of medical information to the Social Security Administration (SSA).

SSI benefits are also excluded income when it comes to child support guidelines. This means that the courts will not reduce your child support order just because you get SSI to help you make ends meet.

Unfortunately, Social Security benefits are often denied when they should not be. Your family law attorney at Melone Hatley, P.C. can help you with these sorts of legal issues and challenge denials. We will help you fight for the public benefits you and your child deserve.

Why Should You Set Up Special Needs Trusts for Your Child?

Special needs trusts are an important part of your estate planning. While often thought of as part of elder law, trusts can be set up at any time as a part of your special needs planning. A special needs trust can help provide additional financial resources you may need that will not disrupt other important resources. Medicaid, SSI, and other forms of income are only available to those with limited resources, and often they have very low benchmarks. SSI, for example, requires that you have no more than $2,000 in countable resources to qualify.

If you pass away but want to be sure your child’s unique needs are still met, you will need to ensure that the assets you leave behind do not cause your child to lose their public benefits. If you leave resources directly to the child as a beneficiary, you could disrupt those benefits.

Special needs trusts, however, create a shelter for those benefits. Assets in your trust will not be considered in eligibility for government programs. You can control who will administer the trust as a trustee, and that trustee will have a legal responsibility to act in your child’s best interest. The trustee could be any family member you choose or even a third party outside your family. Finally, the assets can be used for a wide range of expenses, from medical and dental services to caregivers, personal care, education, vacations, and home repairs or utility bills.

Setting up special needs trusts is not easy, but a qualified North Carolina estate planning attorney can help make sure that your child’s needs continue to be met when you pass away.

Seeking a Lawyer to Protect Your Special Needs Children?

Special needs planning for loved ones can be quite complicated and involve many legal issues. From dealing with custody transitions to special education services, additional child support, public benefits, and beyond, the process can be confusing and even terrifying for a parent also dealing with the pain of a divorce.

At Melone Hatley, P.C., we believe in creating honest, caring, and compassionate attorney-client relationships and are experienced in all areas of family law, from child support to special education advocacy, trusts and estates, custody, support, and more. We are here solely to help your family.

We Offer Custody Solutions Catered to Your Child’s Special Needs

Mother and father sitting down painting with their special needs son

Caring for loved ones with special needs presents great challenges. If you need help with child custody, child support, or other special needs planning for your child, Melone Hatley, P.C. is ready to help. Contact us today for an appointment. Just call 980-288-8909 or fill out our online contact form.

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