Support obligations for a child with special education needs

On Behalf of | Sep 21, 2020 | Child Custody

Parents often feel strongly about their child’s education. Understandably, parents want the best education possible for their child. During and after a divorce, however, they may disagree regarding what that might be, especially if the child has special needs, such as a learning disability or behavioral or emotional issues. In these cases, the right educational setting becomes paramount to the child’s success.

When potential educational issues arise in these situations, resolving any disputes does not fall entirely within the context of a child support dispute. Educational law and administrative processes also come into play, requiring thorough advocacy from sophisticated attorneys who know how to help parents navigate two separate legal areas.

Generally, Connecticut family courts attempt to incorporate any financial support the child would have had from each parent before the divorce into the final child support order, including educational support. For example, if a child attended a private school during the marriage of the parents, the court may likely include support for private school tuition in the financial orders. See, e.g. Flynn v. Flynn, 7 Conn.App. 745, (1986). Trial courts have the authority to order one or both parents to provide resources for private schooling for minor children, if the circumstances warrant, especially when there are special needs issues.

However, when a marriage breaks down, Connecticut law recognizes that parents may have differences regarding child-rearing decisions, including education. In Hardesty v. Hardesty, the custodial parent sought to modify a support order to include resources for private school expenses. The Connecticut Supreme Court determined that the choice of the custodial parent, in the absence of a showing of special need, is insufficient to force a “noncustodial parent who genuinely doubts the value of the program” to underwrite the private education. 83 Conn. 253, 265 (1981).

When the public schools are not able to provide suitable educational opportunities for children with special needs, the family court may include educational expenses in family law financial orders.

Connecticut children with special needs may have options

State law requires Connecticut public schools to do their best to meet the educational needs of children with special needs.    The school identifies these needs in an individual education program (IEP) for each student. If the school cannot provide a service the child needs to succeed, either the school district or the parents may request a private school placement at the cost of the district. Parents may have to arrange for an expert evaluation to make their case. School districts often resist parent requests, and the two sides may come to a cost-sharing agreement in the end.

What is in the best interest of your child?

If you are the parent of a special needs child, you may wonder what this means for your own child support arrangement. What is best for your child now may depend heavily on your child’s age and specific needs. Those may change as your child grows. Parents may come to a stipulated agreement regarding educational expenses for the purposes of the financial orders. However,

Formulating an effective plan

In order to understand your child’s educational needs, start with your current situation. You may want to consider the following:

  • Your child’s diagnosed condition
  • Recommendations by your child’s treating doctor or therapist
  • Your child’s current IEP or 504 plan
  • The current school’s ability to meet your child’s educational needs
  • Other educational and therapeutic options available for your child

If you and your soon to be ex-spouse are unable to agree on an educational plan for your child, working with a skilled family law litigator who has a command of the intersect of education law and family law is critical.