When a spouse is disabled or has special needs, divorce can be complicated by issues related to financial support, child custody, and child support.
How Disabilities Impact Divorce
A spouse with disabilities often faces specific issues that result in a more complex divorce. Due to the spouse’s special needs, the court may pay special attention to his/her financial needs, child custody rights, child support, and disability payments. Although legal rights in a divorce can vary from state to state, most courts make decisions based on the best interest of both spouses and children.
Indiana laws do not recognize spousal support or alimony. However, financial support in a divorce can be awarded as “spousal maintenance.” Courts base financial support awards on each spouse’s financial needs and abilities to pay support. If a Court finds that a spouse is physically or mentally incapacitated to the extent that their ability to self-support is materially affected, then the Court may award spousal maintenance for the duration of the incapacity. The Court may also consider whether the disabled spouse was awarded sufficient marital property to support themselves.
Child custody is always based on a child’s best interests. If one parent is disabled, child custody will not be affected unless that parent’s impairment impacts the child’s needs. Factors that impact child custody include:
- A child’s relationship with each parent
- A child’s physical, emotional, and educational needs
- A child’s connection to siblings and other family members
- The physical and emotional health of each parent
- The ability of each parent to provide a stable environment
- A child’s preference, if sufficiently mature
In cases of severe physical impairment, mental illness, and drug and/or alcohol addiction, child custody may be impacted. If a parent’s disability hinders care for the child’s physical, mental, and emotional welfare, a judge is likely to deny child custody to that parent.
Indiana courts can still award child support, even when a parent is disabled. If the disabled parent is not able to work and earn a steady income, child support can be attached to other types of income such as Social Security Disability payments or workers’ compensation benefits. Regular disability payments are more likely to be considered income by the court. Since state laws determine what counts as income when calculating child support, it is important to discuss parental rights with an Indiana family law attorney who understands child support laws.