Category: Child Support

Public vs. Private School: Who Decides During A Divorce?

Parents going through a divorce are supposed to work together to make decisions in their children’s best interests.  One of these significant decisions is school placement.  What happens if the parents cannot agree? What if one parent wants the children to attend private school and the other insists on public school?

Does Legal Custody Have An Impact On The School Placement Decision?

Yes.  If the parents share joint legal custody, one parent cannot unilaterally enroll a child in an educational program over the other parent’s objection.  If a parent has sole legal custody over his or her child, generally, that parent can unilaterally enroll a child in an educational program if the parent believes it is in the child’s best interests.

Can A Court Order Me To Pay For My Child’s Private School Tuition?

Yes.  In the 1971 Connecticut Supreme Court case of Cleveland v. Cleveland, 161 Conn. 452, it was determined that the courts in Connecticut could direct one or both parents to pay for private schooling if the circumstances warrant. It is a matter to be determined in the sound discretion of the court on consideration of the totality of the circumstances, including the financial ability of the parties, the availability of public schools, the schools attended by the children before the divorce, and the special needs and general welfare of the children.  Thus, whether a court will order you to pay for your child’s private school tuition will be based on your specific circumstances.

For example, in Hardisty v. Hardisty, 183 Conn. 253, 265 (1981), the court stated: “The right of the custodial parent to make educational choices is, however, an insufficient basis, absent a showing of special need or some other compelling justification, for increasing the support obligation of the noncustodial parent who genuinely doubts the value of the program that he is being asked to underwrite.”

How Does Child Support Relate To Private School Tuition?

The court is permitted to deviate from the presumptive amount of child support if it makes a finding that there are extraordinary education expenses.  If the court makes this finding, it can order the parent that pays child support to pay additional child support, which would cover a portion of the child’s private school tuition.   

Broder Orland Murray & DeMattie LLC, with offices in Westport and Greenwich, CT, concentrate specifically in the areas of family law, matrimonial law, and divorce.  We are experienced in negotiating, litigating, and mediating educational placement disputes while a divorce is pending and post-judgment.  If you anticipate an educational placement dispute, it is crucial to contact an experienced family law attorney right away so you can formulate a strategy to both protect your rights and further your child’s best interests.

Simplifying Payment Of Children’s Extra-Curricular Activity Expenses Post-Divorce With An “Activity Fund”

In Connecticut, the purpose of statutory child support is to provide for a contribution toward the basic household expenses incident to raising a child, such as food, clothing, and a child’s share of shelter expenses.  Child support does not include the costs associated with a child’s extra-curricular activities, including things like sports and/or music activities, sports equipment, musical instruments, camps, tutoring, SAT prep courses, or driving classes (collectively, “extra-curricular expenses”). Typically, however, parents will agree to share the cost of a child’s extra-curricular expenses in some manner as part of a comprehensive divorce settlement, and well-crafted separation agreements typically contain provisions addressing payment and reimbursement of such expenses.

What Is A Children’s Activity Fund?

When it comes to payment of a child’s extra-curricular expenses post-divorce, as a practical matter, it is often the case that one parent will pay for 100% of a particular expense and then be owed a reimbursement payment from the other parent to account for that parent’s share of the expense.    Some agreements provide that a parent who fronts the cost of such an expense must send proof of payment to the other parent within some set time period (e.g., fifteen (15) days), at which point the non-paying spouse will have some set period of time by which he or she must reimburse the other parent for his or her share of the expense.   Other agreements contain “true-up” provisions, which require parents, at certain set intervals (e.g., on a quarterly basis), to tabulate how much each parent has spent on extra-curricular expenses during that interval, and then determine the appropriate reimbursement payment owed from one parent to the other.

A third and perhaps underutilized option for addressing payment of extra-curricular expenses post-divorce is for parents, post-divorce, to maintain a joint bank account that may be utilized for the sole purpose of payment of a child’s extra-curricular expenses.   We often refer to this as an Activity Fund.

How Does An Activity Fund Work?

In this model, as part of a comprehensive agreement, divorcing parents agree to set up a joint bank account that will be maintained after the divorce from which all of a child’s extra-curricular activity expenses shall be paid.  The parties agree to initially fund the account with a certain amount (e.g., $5,000) and further agree that when the balance falls below a certain amount (e.g., $1,000), each party is required to replenish the fund.  In the example above, if the allocation of payment of such expenses is 60/40, the parent who bears the 60% obligation would initially fund the account with $3,000, while the parent with the 40% obligation would fund the account with $2,000. Replenishment requirements can also be made proportionately.

Typically, an activity fund would be set up such that each parent has access to an ATM/debit card linked to the account and each party would be entitled to receive monthly statements from the Account.   

The parties’ separation agreement would expressly delineate which expenses of a child can be paid from the activity fund.  Notably, parties can certainly choose to expand the types of expenses that are governed by the activity fund to include other expenses of a child such as unreimbursed medical expenses or educational expenses.

What Are The Benefits Of Utilizing An Activity Fund?

Shared obligations to pay for a child’s extracurricular expenses post-divorce can, unfortunately, be a source of tension and conflict between ex-spouses.  It is not uncommon for divorce attorneys to receive calls from would-be clients complaining that they have not been reimbursed by an ex-spouse for his or her share of a child’s expenses, or that an ex-spouse continually fails to provide back-up documentation for shared expenses.  Sometimes these disputes even wind up in court.  Utilization of an activity fund is an easy and practical way of avoiding these types of headaches.

At Broder Orland Murray & DeMattie LLC, we are extremely experienced and adept at drafting separation agreements that include financial support provisions that are expressly designed to limit the potentially costly and time-consuming post-divorce disputes.

Payment Of Expenses For “Adult” Children After Divorce – PART II

In a Connecticut divorce, are you legally obligated to provide financial support to adult children? In Part I, we discussed that if you have an adult child living with you, or you are providing financial assistance to your adult child and your monthly living expenses are increased as a result, those increased expenses are not automatically covered by an award of alimony. We also discussed how the payment of health insurance for children over the age of eighteen is typically handled.

In Part II, we will address the limited areas where the Court can order you to provide support for an adult child.

Can Child Support Extend Beyond The Age Of Eighteen?

In Connecticut, child support is paid until the child turns eighteen or nineteen if still in high school. However, there is an exception to this rule. If your child is mentally, physically, or intellectually disabled, and lives with you and is primarily dependent on you, child support can extend until age twenty-one.

If you have a child with special needs, it is important to discuss your child’s specific circumstances with your divorce counsel so that we can appropriately address the possibility of extended child support.

Do I Have An Obligation To Pay For College and Graduate School For My Children When Divorcing In Connecticut?

In Connecticut, the Court can enter orders requiring you and/or your spouse to provide support to your child to attend college (or similar vocational school) for a total of four full academic years, until your child turns twenty-three. Any order for your contribution to higher education is capped at the cost of in-state tuition at the University of Connecticut, and it may include any necessary expenses such as tuition, room, board, dues, fees, and registration and application costs.

If orders for educational support are requested prior to your child attaining the age of twenty-three, the Court will have jurisdiction to makes orders regarding the payment of undergraduate expenses based on the financial circumstances of you and your spouse. However, your child must also meet certain qualifications to continue to be eligible for the payments under an educational support order. For example, your child must be enrolled at an accredited institution and maintain good academic standing in accordance with the school rules.

In Connecticut, there is no legal obligation for you or your spouse to contribute to the cost of graduate school for your child. Even if your child is under the age of twenty-three, your obligation is limited to undergraduate education only.

If you and your spouse agree that you would like to contribute in excess of the University of Connecticut cap on undergraduate tuition, or you agree to pay for graduate school, that can be included in your Separation Agreement. This is often the case if parents have already saved for college or graduate school and have accounts specifically designated for those expenses. If so, it is important to address the accounts and your intentions for them in your divorce agreement, so that you can enforce your agreement if necessary at a later date.

The attorneys at Broder Orland Murray & DeMattie LLC, with offices in Westport and Greenwich, Connecticut, we understand the unique challenges that families face after divorce. We use our vast experience to assist our clients in the negotiation and drafting of agreements to preemptively address many of those challenges.

man thinking about how to handle parents divorce

Payment Of Expenses For “Adult” Children After Divorce – PART I

It is common for divorcing parents to have children who over the age of eighteen and considered to be adults by the State of Connecticut, however, they are not yet self-supporting. These adult children are in an in-between stage, perhaps looking for a job or even have a job but are still receiving financial assistance from mom and dad. Sometimes divorcing parents are in agreement about providing some level of financial support to adult children. In a contentious divorce, they may not agree. In that case, how are the expenses shared for adult children who are still reliant on divorcing parents for some level of support?

Generally, divorcing parents are not legally obligated to provide financial support to adult children.

If our adult child is living with me—does it factor into my expenses for alimony?

There are several factors that are considered in determining the appropriate alimony to be paid from one spouse to the other, and one factor is the needs of the alimony payee. If you have an adult child living with you, or you are providing financial assistance to your adult child and your monthly living expenses are increased as a result, those increased expenses are not automatically covered by an award of alimony.

This may seem unfair, particularly if you have a child who recently graduated from college and is trying to find a job while living at home. It is important to have an experienced attorney who can help you negotiate a settlement that may include some of these expenses.

Who Will Pay For Health Insurance For Our “Adult” Children After Divorce?

In Connecticut, divorcing parents are only required to maintain health insurance coverage for minor children until the later of the child reaching the age of 18 or graduating high school (but no later than the age of 19). While there is no legal obligation to do so, it is typical for a Separation Agreement to provide for continued health insurance coverage for children beyond age eighteen. Most Agreements contain a provision that the coverage in effect at the time of divorce will continue for so long as it remains available through an employer at a reasonable cost. Many divorcing parents, agree for health insurance to extend to age 26, the maximum allowable age limit in Connecticut, or until the child is able to secure health insurance through his/her own employer, spouse, or domestic partner. If this language is included in your Separation Agreement, you and/or your spouse have a legal obligation to continue to provide coverage for your adult children.

The attorneys at Broder Orland Murray & DeMattie LLC, with offices in Westport and Greenwich, Connecticut, we understand the unique challenges that families face after divorce. We use our vast experience to assist our clients in the negotiation and drafting of agreements to preemptively address many of those challenges.

HOW DOES THE CARES ACT IMPACT MY CONNECTICUT DIVORCE?

On March 27, 2020 the Congress passed H.R. 748, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security “CARES” Act. This Act is intended to provide emergency economic relief to individuals, families and businesses who are impacted by the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic. How does the CARES Act impact your Connecticut Divorce?

How are Economic Impact Payments Treated in my Connecticut Divorce?

The CARES Act provides for Economic Impact Payments to be made to many American households based on Adjusted Gross Income (“AGI”) as reported on 2018 and 2019 Federal income tax returns. Eligibility is based on thresholds, for example, if you filed individually and had AGI less than $99,000, filed individually as head of household with AGI of less than $136,500, or filed jointly with AGI less than $198,000, you may be entitled to payments of up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per child.
If you are going through a divorce in Connecticut and you, your spouse and/or your children are entitled to economic impact payments, the payments constitute a marital asset for purposes of dividing property, the same way that a tax refund would be.

If I am already divorced, who will receive the Economic Impact Payments on behalf of my children?

Whether or not your child is entitled to an impact payment depends on the financial information of the parent who claimed the child on a 2019 tax return. If neither parent filed a 2019 tax return, the payment will be based upon the parent who claimed the child in 2018. Payments are automatically made into the account or mailed to the address designated by the tax filer on his or her return.

How do I know if my Spouse Received Funds from the Paycheck Protection Program?

The paycheck protection program was established under the CARES Act and is intended to provide small businesses with up to eight weeks of payroll and other costs (such as rent, mortgage interest and utilities). If you are going through a divorce in Connecticut and your spouse owns a business, it probably worthwhile to formally request any and all documents and applications submitted to or received from the paycheck protection program (or any other Federal, State or Municipal relief, for that matter). This will not only inform you as to whether or not your spouse has received funds, but it will also provide you with documentation of the payroll and other financial information of the business in the months and years leading up to the divorce.

Will my alimony reconciliation be postponed due to the tax deadline extensions?

The IRS, in conjunction with the CARES Act, has extended the deadline to file and pay federal income taxes from April 15, 2020 to July 15, 2020. If your Separation Agreement provides for a reconciliation of alimony upon the filing of your ex-spouse’s tax return, and he or she is taking advantage of the extension, it will likely impact your ability to conduct a reconciliation. While you are waiting for the 2019 tax return to be filed, there may be other documents that you can request from your ex to at least start the reconciliation process, such as W-2s, year-end paystubs, 1099s and other supporting documents.

Broder Orland Murray & DeMattie LLC recommends that you seek advice from an experienced divorce attorney, as well as your tax professional and financial advisor as to how the CARES Act might affect you if you are divorced, divorcing or separated in Connecticut.

Imputing Income for Child Support Purposes

How is Child Support Generally Determined in Connecticut?

In Connecticut, the amount of a non-custodial parent’s child support obligation to a custodial parent is directly tied to the respective incomes of both parents. Pursuant to the Connecticut Child Support Guidelines, parents’ respective incomes are plugged into a mathematical formula which yields a presumptively correct weekly child support obligation that one parent must pay to the other.

What Does Voluntary “Underemployment” Mean?

Voluntary underemployment occurs when a parent (whether it be the child support obligor or the parent receiving child support) voluntarily earns less income then he or she is capable of earning based upon his or her education, training and past earnings.  Consider, for example, a scenario in which a child support obligor voluntarily leaves a high-paying job on Wall Street shortly before a child support award will issue to pursue a far less lucrative career as a musician; this would be an example of “voluntary underemployment.”

Do Courts Have Any Means to Redress Voluntary Underemployment in Issuing Child Support Awards?

Yes.  In such circumstances, courts have the discretion to attribute or “impute” income to a parent (whether it be the parent paying child support, the parent receiving child support, or both) for purposes of determining child support obligations.  In other words, when plugging a parent’s income into the mathematical child support formula set forth in the Connecticut Child Support Guidelines, courts may utilize an income figure that reflects the amount of income that a parent could potentially be earning (commonly referred to as “earning capacity”), rather than the amount the parent is actually earning at the time.

How do Courts Determine what Amount of Income to Impute to a Party?

In determining a party’s earning capacity for purposes of imputing income to that party, there is not a precise methodology that Courts employ.  Rather, in any given case, the determining Court will examine the unique set of facts in that particular matter in order to make a determination.  However, factors that Courts typically would consider in this context would include the relevant party’s historical earnings, employment history, vocational skills, employability, age and health.

Are Experts Ever Used to Determine Earning Capacity?

Yes.  In cases where earning capacity is an issue, it is common for either or both parties to hire vocational experts for the purpose of proving (or disproving) the other parent’s earning capacity. A vocational expert will generally testify about what a person with similar experience and expertise should make.

Cases involving earning capacity claims are complex and, in order to be handled properly, require a great deal of attention and expertise.  At Broder Orland Murray & DeMattie LLC, we have extensive experience handling matters where earning capacity is at issue and have a well-established track record of achieving favorable results for our clients in such matters.

The Connecticut Divorce: What is Family Relations?

This Week’s Blog by Christopher J. DeMattie

  • Family Relations offers a wide variety of services to help resolve parenting, custody, and financial disputes in divorce and post-judgment actions.
  • Depending on the service recommended, you can expect to meet with a Family Relations Counselor for an hour or for an extended period of time over the course of many months.

What is Family Relations Relative to a Connecticut Divorce?

Family Relations or family services is a free service offered by the Judicial Branch to assist the Court and individuals in resolving parenting, custodial, alimony, child support, and property issues.  The Family Relations Counselor assigned to your matter is typically a trained social worker or attorney.

What Services Does Family Relations Offer in a Connecticut Divorce?

Pursuant to Court Form JD-FM211 below is a list and brief explanation of the specific services:

  1. What type of alternative dispute resolution services?
  • Pre-trial Settlement Negotiations – In all Judicial Districts, Family Relations Counselors conduct pre-trial and final judgment settlement conferences with attorneys and parents in conjunction with their attendance at Family Short Calendar and other Family Civil Court dockets.
  • Mediation – Family Relations Counselors mediate custody and access disputes for up to three 2-hour sessions. These efforts are geared toward assisting parents in resolving differences in a self-determining, non-coercive, and confidential manner.
  • Conflict Resolution Conference – This is a confidential, directive process utilizing negotiation and mediation techniques to resolve the primary issues of custody and access. Parents and attorneys participate in the conferences and information from professional sources may be included. The Family Relations Counselor may offer recommendations to the parents at the conclusion of the process if the parties are unable to resolve their dispute. These recommendations are not provided to the Court.
  1. What type of Case Management Services?
  • General Case Management – A Family Relations Counselor will be assigned distinct responsibilities to assist parties in resolving their parenting issues with a report back to the Court. Some components include gathering specific information regarding the family, monitoring compliance with court orders, facilitating settlement conferences to develop parenting plans, conducting home visits, or completing other court-ordered tasks.
  • Intensive Case Management – This service offers parents in the early stages of post judgment court involvement the opportunity to enhance collaboration between the parents and formulate mutual decisions regarding the well-being/care of their children. The role of the Family Relations Counselor is to work with the parents as needed to reduce conflict, offer skills for enhanced communication, reinforce positive parenting, and report progress to the Court.
  1. What type of evaluative services?
  • Issue-Focused Evaluation – This is a non-confidential process of assessing a limited issue impacting a family and/or parenting plan. The goal of an Issue-Focused Evaluation is to explore the defined parenting dispute, gather information regarding only this issue and provide a recommendation to the parents and the Court. This evaluation format is limited in scope, involvement, and duration.
  • Comprehensive Evaluation – This is an in-depth, non-confidential assessment of the family system by the Family Relations Counselor. The information gathered by the counselor, the assessment of the family, and the resulting recommended parenting plan is shared with the parents and attorneys. This recommendation may be used to form the basis of an agreement. At the conclusion of the process, a report with recommendations is filed with the Court.
  1. What type of education services?
  • Parent Education Program (PEP) – Family Services contracts with community and private agencies throughout the state to provide this program. The PEP is a six-hour statutorily mandated, psycho-educational course for separating and divorcing parents that provides information about the impact of family restructuring on children.

What Can I Expect at my Family Relations Meeting in a Connecticut Divorce?

Typically, there are two ways to end up in Family Relations.  First, prior to having an evidentiary hearing on a Motion, you and/or your lawyer must first meet with Family Relations to try and settle the issues.  Your lawyer will present an argument and provide basic backup documents, if requested, and the Family Relations Counselor will try and mediate a resolution and/or provide recommendations.  This meeting could feel rushed as it typically lasts only between 20 and 40 minutes.

Second, if you and your spouse have disputes relative to custody or parenting time, your matter will most likely be referred to Family Relations for an intake screen.   At the intake the Family Relations Counselor will ask you a series of questions to identify the level of conflict and complexity of issues. The screening includes questions about: (a) current court orders, (b) past and present parenting concerns including substance abuse and family violence, and (c) the level of conflict.  This screen helps Family Relations determine if mediation, conflict resolution conference, issue focused evaluation, or a comprehensive evaluation is the appropriate service to help resolve the conflict(s).  Once the appropriate service is determined, an appointment will be scheduled (it may be a joint meeting or an individual meeting) and you will be asked to discuss your concerns about the children and answer concerns that the other parent may raise.  Depending on the service, you may be asked to sign release and/or consent forms to permit the Family Relations Counselor to communicate with doctors, therapists, teachers, and other relevant individuals.  Additionally, the Family Relations Counselor may conduct a visit with you and your children at your home.

Broder Orland Murray & DeMattie LLC, with offices in Westport and Greenwich, CT, concentrates specifically in the areas of family law, matrimonial law and divorce.  We have significant experience with Family Relations and understand the nuances of the process.  Our experience enables us to effectively guide our clients through the process by educating them on what to expect and to prepare them in presenting their concerns and issues in an organized and cogent fashion.

Common Myths With Respect to Child Support In Connecticut

This Week’s Blog by Sarah E. Murray

  • Myth #1: There is no child support awarded in cases where parenting time is shared equally or nearly equally
  • Myth #2: Child support is meant to cover all of the costs of raising a child
  • Myth #3: Child support is paid until the children turn 21

Child Support is Sometimes Awarded in Cases Where There is Shared Custody

Clients in Greenwich and Stamford hear several myths and misconceptions about child support in Connecticut, which is determined in accordance with the Connecticut Child Support Guidelines.  At Broder Orland Murray & DeMattie LLC, one of our roles is to educate our clients about Connecticut law on child support so that they can make informed decisions when negotiating or litigating their cases.

Many clients are under the impression that a shared parenting plan, in which the parties share physical custody of the children, means that no child support will be paid from one party to the other.  Some divorce litigants in Fairfield County actually try to negotiate a shared parenting schedule because they think that it will exempt them from having to pay child support to the other party.  They can even go so far as to insist on an exact fifty-fifty parenting schedule for this reason.

Under the Connecticut Child Support Guidelines, shared physical custody is defined as “a situation in which the physical residence of the child is shared in a manner that ensures the child has substantially equal time and contact with both parents.”  In other words, the parenting time with the child or children does not have to be exactly equal for it to be considered shared physical custody under the Child Support Guidelines.  This is a common misconception that divorce clients have.  If a party has six out of fourteen overnights, that schedule would be considered shared physical custody.

In situations where there is shared physical custody, the Child Support Guidelines provide that child support should be paid by the party with the higher net weekly income to the party with the lower net weekly income in the amount set forth in the guidelines.

Parties can deviate from the Child Support Guidelines in shared physical custody cases, meaning that they can choose not to have the party who earns more pay child support to the other party, or they can choose to have that party pay a lesser amount of child support than prescribed by the guidelines.  Connecticut law supports such a deviation where: 1) the shared physical custody arrangement substantially reduces expenses for the parent with the lower income; or 2) the shared physical custody arrangement substantially increases expenses for the parent with the higher income; and, if one of the two former conditions is met, 3) sufficient funds are available for the parent with the lower income to meet the needs of the child.  Parties can also deviate in a shared physical custody case where their incomes are substantially equal.

Unless parties deviate from the Child Support Guidelines, as described above, a shared physical custody arrangement does not exempt the party who earns more from paying child support.

I Pay Child Support. Why Do I Have to Pay for Anything Else for My Child?

This is a question that we hear often at Broder Orland Murray & DeMattie LLC.  Child support is meant to be a contribution toward the basic household expenses incident to raising a child, such as food, clothing, and the child’s share of shelter expenses.  Connecticut’s Child Support Guidelines set forth the formula for determining the amount of child support to be paid in a given case based on the parties’ combined net weekly incomes.  The Child Support Guidelines are uniformly applicable throughout the state; there are no “Fairfield County” guidelines that take into account the fact that the cost of living in Fairfield County is much higher than it is in other parts of the state.

Child support does not include, however, all expenses incident to raising a child.  For example, extracurricular activities, work-related childcare, and unreimbursed medical expenses are not covered by the child support paid from one parent to another. Typically, the payment of these expenses is allocated between the parties pursuant to a settlement or final divorce judgment in a case.

Child Support in Connecticut Does Not Extend Until the Child Turns 21

Fairfield County divorce clients who work in New York are often surprised to learn that child support does not extend until a child’s twenty-first birthday because, in New York, that is the law.  In Connecticut, child support ends upon a child attaining the age of eighteen, but if the child is still in high school upon attaining the age of eighteen, child support ends when the child graduates high school or turns nineteen, whichever event happens first.  For parents who expect that their children will live primarily with them during school breaks and summers home from college, this can be disappointing news, as that parent will shoulder more of the financial burden related to the children during those years.  Sometimes, we factor this in as part of alimony negotiations in order to assist the parent who will be housing and feeding a college-age child the majority of the time.

Contact a Top Fairfield County Divorce Attorney to Discuss Connecticut Child Support Law

At Broder Orland Murray & DeMattie LLC, we can discuss with you how the law regarding child support applies to the particular facts of your case.

The Connecticut Divorce and Children With Special Needs

This Week’s Blog by Eric J. Broder

  • In Connecticut, the divorce rate is higher for marriages involving children with special needs
  • Custody and Parenting Plans in a case where families have children with special needs often differ from more “typical” divorce cases
  • Alimony, Child Support, and Equitable Distribution of Assets need to be analyzed differently when you have children with special needs

There is a wide body of research confirming that parents of children with special needs have a higher divorce rate than those without special needs children.  As Connecticut divorce lawyers with offices in Greenwich and Westport, our firm has represented many parents of children with special needs.

As I have learned through my discussions with many parents of special needs children and with child therapists, one reason for the increased divorce rate among this group is that raising a special needs child often places many difficult and unforeseen challenges and stresses upon a family. Often there is very little, if any, “down time” for parents of special needs children, and little time to devote to each other, such as having a simple date night.

When a family with a special needs child goes through a divorce, the issues of child custody, visitation/parenting plans, alimony, child support, and the equitable distribution of assets can become more difficult to negotiate, and often require a greater deal of attention and analysis in order to ensure that the child’s needs are adequately addressed.

Custody in Cases Involving Children with Special Needs

In the case of a child with special needs, the hope is that the parents can share joint legal custody of the child, meaning that the parents consult with each other with respect to all major issues concerning the child (such as medical, educational, and religious issues), so that all major decisions are made jointly.  When parents share joint legal custody of a child, each parent has an equal voice and neither parent has greater decision-making authority than the other parent.  In the event the parties cannot agree upon joint custody and one or both parties is seeking “sole custody” of a child (wherein one parent has the right to make final decisions regarding a child in the event the parties cannot agree upon an issue), the process becomes much more difficult, time consuming, and expensive.  In such scenarios, a Guardian Ad Litem will often be appointed, the costs of which will paid for by the parties.  That individual will spend a great deal of time talking not only to the parents and the child, but also to any mental health professionals, teachers, caregivers, friends, and family that know the child and/or the parents well, or provide professional services to the child. Simply, your child’s entire community can become involved in the case.

Parenting Plans for Children with Special Needs

Connecticut divorce parenting plans for children with special needs often require approaches that differ from traditional parenting plans and in such scenarios there is not really a “typical” plan.  In order to devise a plan that adequately addresses a child’s special needs, it is strongly recommended that parents work together with the child’s medical provider and/or mental health professional.  For example, transitions between houses are often an issue that must be appropriately addressed.

Is Alimony different in Cases Involving Children with Special Needs?

The amount and term of alimony can differ in cases involving a child with special needs if the child’s needs require one of the parents to stay home to provide extra care. Accordingly, this parent will not be able to work or develop a career as easily as others. In these circumstances, a solution may be a longer alimony term for the recipient.

Is Child Support different in Cases Involving Children with Special Needs?

The Connecticut Child Support Guidelines do not specifically address or have any separate designation for children with special needs. However, there can be a deviation from the standard child support amount based upon consideration of a child’s special needs. Typically, child support ends at the later of a child reaching the age of 18 or graduating from high school but not later than the age of 19. In the case of a child with special needs, however, child support may be extended until age 21.  In addition to regular child support, any and all unreimbursed medical expenses (including appropriate child care expenses) will be apportioned between the parents subject to their financial situations.  Furthermore, depending on the severity of a child’s special needs, there may be other entitlements available to the child such as social security disability.

Equitable Distribution of Assets

In dividing assets, parties who have the financial ability to set aside funds for the care of a special needs child will often do so through a special needs trust. It is also strongly recommended that a Trust and Estates lawyer be involved to help the parties plan properly for the future care of their child.

With offices located in Greenwich and Westport, the attorneys at Broder Orland Murray & DeMattie LLC have extensive experience in negotiating and drafting divorce agreements involving children with special needs and we offer comprehensive guidance through the wide range of issues that arise during a divorce.

Child Support & Children’s Expenses

This Week’s Blog by Amanda K. Rieben

Many clients come to our office from towns in Fairfield County wondering which children’s expenses they will be required to contribute toward as part of their child support obligation. While the Court may order both parents to contribute toward certain children’s expenses, there are some children’s expenses which parents are statutorily required to contribute toward, whereas there are other children’s expenses which are entirely discretionary.

The Court has the authority pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes § 46b-84, to establish a schedule and an amount of child support to be awarded, including a percentage contribution by the parents toward certain children’s expenses.  Specifically, Connecticut General Statutes § 46b-84, provides that “subsequent to the annulment or dissolution of any marriage or the entry of a decree of legal separation or divorce, the parents of a minor child of the marriage, shall maintain the child according to their respective abilities, if the child is in need of maintenance.” In determining whether a child is in need of maintenance and, if in need, the respective abilities of the parents to provide such maintenance, the court shall consider the age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, estate, vocational skills and employability of each of the parents and of the child.  The Court shall also consider each parent’s earning capacity and the child’s education status.

While the Court’s authority to award child support is governed by Connecticut General Statutes § 46b-84, the schedule and amount of child support to be awarded are determined by the Child Support Guidelines in accordance with Connecticut General Statutes § 46b-215(a). The Connecticut Child Support Guidelines include a worksheet and instructions for determining the amount of weekly child support owed by the parents up to a combined net weekly income of $4,000.  In addition to a weekly amount of child support, parents are also obligated to contribute a certain percentage toward unreimbursed medical expenses, as well as child care. Parents are also obligated pursuant to statute to provide health insurance for any child whom the Court deems is in need of maintenance.  However, parents are not statutorily required to contribute toward many children’s expenses, such as sports and/or music activities, sports equipment, musical instruments, camps, tutoring, SAT prep courses, or driving classes.  Additionally, parents are not statutorily required to contribute toward certain educational expenses like private school tuition (other than college in certain circumstances) and uniforms.

Although, a parent is not statutorily required to contribute toward the aforementioned child related expenses, the Court has the discretion to order for either or both parents to make financial contributions toward these expenses. In making a determination as to whether such an order is appropriate, the Court will consider the §46b-84 statutory factors discussed above.  The Court will also consider several other factors which may include how long the child has been engaged in the activity and/or enrolled in the school, whether one or both of the parents as a child was ever enrolled in the school and/or activity, the emotional impact on the child, the child’s best interests, and the financial impact on the parents. If a Court ultimately determines that the parents shall contribute toward a child related expense, the percentage is often consistent with the percentages the parents are required to contribute toward unreimbursed medical and child care expenses pursuant to the Connecticut Child Support Guidelines.  However, this is not always the case. In some instances a Court may direct one parent to be solely responsible or responsible for a disproportionate share of a child related expense, depending whose decision it was to continue to enroll the child in that extracurricular activity and/or school.

At Broder Orland Murray & DeMattie LLC we recognize the financial constraints that a pending divorce can pose on both parents, and the effects that this can in turn have on their children. We understand the multitude of factors considered by a Court in establishing a child support order, and we are adept at helping and advising our clients how to financially plan for their children’s future.