Episode 26 - Ending Your Marriage While Supporting Your Special Needs Child

Welcome to the top Texas Lawyers podcast. This podcast is brought to you by the law firm Abercrombie and Sanchez PLLC.

Your hosts are Bryan Abercrombie and Samuel Sanchez. Bryan has been practicing law for 18 years and his board certified that sort of legal specialization in the area of family law. Sam has been practicing for 13 years, is licensed in both Texas and Florida, and is a certified mediator. This podcast is for informational purposes only and all views are the opinion of the hosts. It’s not designed to provide legal advice for your particular legal matter, and it should not replace the advice of competent counsel. Welcome. And we hope you enjoy the top Texas Lawyers podcast..

All right! Good afternoon and welcome to the Top Texas Lawyers Podcast. I’m your host, Bryan Abercrombie.

And with me, as always, is my partner in crime, my chocolate syrup to my vanilla ice cream, Sam Sanchez.

All about the banana split. And I’m actually the whip topping. OK, whatever. Whatever you want to be my friend. Today, we’ve brought on a special guest. Her name is Stephanie Quade. She is a very close friend of mine for at least twenty six years. So we brought her on today to talk about special needs children and special needs and divorces. And she’s got some very, very personal experience with that. And she’s got some educational background that can can help us navigate through all of this as well.

But before we get started, let’s talk about our famous fun topic that we always talk about every time in the celebrity divorce realm. So what I had on my plate today was the Kim Kardashian Kanye West divorce. Well, I guess it’s not necessarily a divorce yet. It’s a pre-divorce. They’re preparing to be divorced. They’re thinking about it.

I think in Hollywood, that’s called the divorce.

They’re preparing the pre-divorce, they’re preparing to be divorced.

So just something like their agents are not talking anymore for that kind of a situation.

You’re talking about two people that had an empire on one side and the other one had an empire on the other side. And of course, they obviously got married to have a number of children and, you know, some mental health issues. You’ve got all kinds of things in that in that case.

Yeah, I mean, a billion dollars over a billion dollars in assets. I mean, you’re talking about somebody who is going to spend a lot of time. I doubt this sees court, but it’s interesting because, you know, with special needs with an individual, obviously, Kanye having some emotional issues, sometimes heavily medicated, you know, leads a different kind of lifestyle than I think Kim, who’s I think is going back to law school.

Did she get her law degree is in the process of doing it?

Something like that is a seem to be a lawyer. I think she’s so she’s doing it the old fashioned way. What’s reading the law? Studying under a lawyer. She’s doing all that kind of stuff, which is how Abraham Lincoln used to do it, I guess, right there, the study under a lawyer.

And she’s definitely got any comments on the kind of divorce, I think divorce over money. I mean, I think I don’t think there will really get divorced. I think they’re just they’re always doing things for publicity and stuff that, you know.

You know, any press is good press, right?

It’s up in Montana, she’s down in Beverly Hills or wherever she lives, wherever all the rich folk in the California live.

And, yeah, we don’t know whether it’s just a publicity scheme or whether they’re actually in Splitsville. But but, yeah, that’ll be an interesting divorce. We’ll probably spend some time talking about it. But onto the topic de jure. So special needs in the divorce case. So, Sam, what do you think? You’ve got a child with special needs and and keep in mind, special needs children can range a run of there’s some very minor special needs like, say, a learning disability or reading disability or some kind of physical disability where I can still do most of the things normal children can do. But they need some special help up to a more severe situation where there might be a child that requires lifetime care. So, Sam, your thoughts?

Well, I think it definitely adds a level of complexity as you go through the divorce process. And I think it requires a substantial amount of planning and insight to really kind of do that well, because, first of all, it’s not cookie cutter, right? We talk about cookie cutter divorces. We’re talking about divorce decrees that are very basic. They can be somebody goes through a legal zoom and says, I don’t own your property and I don’t have any kids and I want to get divorce. Can you do that? Sure. We’re talking about is really custom provisions, very thoughtful.

A well crafted decree is required, I think absolutely necessary when you’re going through a divorce, even in the in the divorce process for parents of special needs children.

And Stephanie, the reason we brought her on is she’s got a she’s got some some education. You have a master’s degree in special education, is that correct?

Yes, sir.

And then in addition, she has a special needs son named Preston, who is a darling child. And he’s not such a child anymore. He’s a teenager now.

He’s a man now, he’s almost a man now.

He’s pretty close, seventeen, but she’s had very specific, very specific challenges with Preston over the years. And so she kind of gives us a real world firsthand example of kind of the different challenges that she faces on a daily basis and the different kind of workarounds that she has to do in the stuff that you have to think about. You know, if you’re a parent going through a situation, then you have a special needs child. Now, keep in mind that not all special needs are severe. There are some minor things like that. Don’t require a lot of care, like the stuff that the school system can can fix. You know, I don’t want to say fix, but some stuff that the school system can take care of and that, you know, that when you’re talking about a divorce, you’re talking about legally dividing up those rights. You’re talking about one parent having the right to make one or both parents having the right to make an education decision or a medical decision or and psychiatric psychological decision, at least in Texas anyway. And that is where a lot of times people don’t even think about those rights. They just say, oh, we’ll make those decisions when they come up. And when you have normal, healthy children, that’s probably pretty easy to do. But when you have a special needs child education decisions, for example, could be could be huge.

Yeah, absolutely, Bryan. And, you know, the big thing that I try to tell clients, we’ve said this on podcast before, you know, divorce is like two, two railroad tracks that run parallel to one another. The right one is going to deal with the property that you’ve acquired. And what you do there with the other track is really going to deal with your children. And within that particular track, when you’re talking about special needs children, there’s really avenues that you have to address fundamentally differently. And there is conservatorship and there’s possession and access for time with the children and how you make decisions with the children. And I think both of them require really some pretty astute and and intensive kind of thought provoking consideration before you come up with an order, whether it’s a temporary order, but especially before you come up with the final decree, because you’re going through and I’m sure Stephanie can kind of give us some insight in there. But you’re going through issues that maybe most parents don’t and you really have to think about on a daily basis, on short term and long term basis, like what does this order need to look like so that we can function together and at a high level as parents?

So, Stephanie, what are your thoughts on that?

Oh, my gosh, I have so much experience with this, I think when I was going through my divorce, it’s been 10 years. Preston was only seven, so he was really young then. But I think we didn’t think enough about all the things that were going to happen when we split as far as like he was still in therapy and Preston has autism. So he was getting Alphabet therapy and we had people coming in for occupational therapy and all of these things to both houses. And I guess when we got divorced, we didn’t have my attorney to sit down and talk about all these different things with us as to even just financial things like, you know, Preston has special food and there are a lot of extra expenses. And even the therapy expenses, a lot of those got cut out because they weren’t covered. But then even just from the therapist going back and forth between the homes, like we just didn’t talk about a lot of this stuff because there are so many things that are happening. There’s a lot of trauma when you’re going through a divorce and you’re trying to figure out how do I save my home and who’s going to get what stop and you’re not thinking about here’s a special needs child and how do we make these decisions for them for now and…

And just so, just so kind of people understand, I mean, what kind of I don’t want to get too personal, but what kind of strain do you think of that kind of especially its child? What kind of strange do you think that puts on a relationship? One and then two whenever you’re separating and divorcing? What kind of a strain does it put on? You know, I’ll put on the situation at that point.

It’s an enormous strain. It’s it’s very different than having a typically developing child, because I think there’s just a lot of black and white. I have another son. Reagan is 15 and was just five. And we divorced and I felt like things with him were pretty black and white and and that with Preston there are a million different moving parts. And there still is. I’m sure there’s all these decisions with school, you know, and let’s talk about those for a second.

I mean, obviously, I’ve got a I’ve got a daughter that has some special needs to not not near to your level, but we have Alphabet meetings. We have five offers. We have all kinds of alphabet plans. We have we have all kinds of school officials that we’re talking to on a semi-annual basis, I guess, and different plans that we’re trying to put in place. I mean, what does that what does that look like on a daily basis?

It’s interesting. You have a yearly meeting. If you have a child with special needs, even if they’re just learning disabled, you have a yearly card and then you have an IEP, which is an individual education plan for each child. And, you know, when you’re married, I always made all of those decisions and helped write goals because I was a teacher teaching Special Ed at the time that. But then you have to decide who who gets to help make those decisions when you’re in an activity, because the teachers write the goals, but the parents are there to sign off, like who’s going to attend the meeting? And there has to be a lot of communication between the parents when they’re living separately as to when are these things happening and who’s going to be there. And I said, yeah, I share stuff with their dad because, you know, communication wise, as far as this is what we’re thinking about doing, because, I mean, we’re in two separate houses, so there’s not a whole lot of chitchat about it. And then also, I think this is so important that we have a journal and have four years of communication journal that goes from back and forth from school. And I put that in place years ago. And if there’s just any behavioral stuff goes in their food changes, things that we’ve noticed with Preston, but even just our meetings and remember, this is coming up or whatever that all goes and this communication journal and then the teachers to, you know, everything’s sort of fluid with everybody, the teachers and then these two parents, you know, the administrators even. And everybody kind of knows what’s going on. So that there’s one thing where we can all kind of communicate.

And I think this is where a Texas law kind of gives a joint management conservatorship. It gives one parent or the other parent the right to make an education decision. Or it can be joint. Right, or it can be an independent right. This is where that that right becomes a huge issue because somebody has to say, like you said, somebody has to sign off on that plan and somebody has to attend the meeting. So we have to sign off on the plan. Everybody typically under a joint managing conservatorship, everybody has the right to participate and get information. But oftentimes, if you have two parents that are completely at odds and can’t communicate, then the court’s going to probably give one person or the other person the right to make the decision in the event there’s a joint decision. You know, what do you do for a tiebreaker? Who’s the tiebreaker is that a doctor is a psychologist. Is it some kind of educational professional who is the one who breaks the tie? You have to go back to court every time. Sam, what do you think?

Yeah, I mean, I’ve litigated that issue a couple of times over the years. And I would tell you, there’s no there’s no clear cut easy answers for parents and judges are in a tough spot because most of the time when you go into court, it’s because both parents love their kids. It’s not because they hate him. It’s because they both feel like they’re right. And in a situation where you have a special needs child, those situations get even more complicated because I’ll tell most clients who come in and have their children are fine or you’re healthy, no special needs. And I’ll say, OK, well, these rights that we’re talking about, were you talking about joint conservatorship rights, the right to make educational decisions, medical decisions, psychological, invasive dental, all these kinds of things, they just don’t come up a lot. But when you have a special needs child, unfortunately, it seems like they do come up a lot and they become this hyper-situation where parents are now already estranged because they’re going through the divorce process. Even if you’re the best of friends, there’s still that tension. And then now you’ve got a situation to where you have a different perspective on what’s going to be best for your child.

I’ve seen it. Judges have come out and said, we’re going to use an independent, neutral third-party who doesn’t have a dog in the fight. Doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists are going to weigh in, but even then, it’s still up to the judge. So you could then need someone you get an opinion. You don’t like what ends up happening, Bryan? We go in our own expert, right? We go we say, well, here’s a contradicting opinion that you need to take into account. So it’s a really difficult situation that I don’t envy for parents, especially if you don’t have a good parenting relationship. Stephanie, how is that relationship for you? I mean, like at the inception of the divorce, I guess, like our listeners who kind of tune into this will be thinking, well, maybe I’m contemplating going through that process. I have a special needs child. What did you think of? And then also as a follow up, that is like post divorce, what do you look back and say, like gasified? I only know how to put this in place right away and save me.

I wish I’d known a lot of things back then, because, again, you’re not thinking, you’re just you’re kind of scattered and then when you have young children, you’re in the middle of being a parent to these little children, too. I really wish I had thought more about all the ins and outs of all the special needs staff. I would even find the financial even as far as child support and all of that just didn’t get factored in as to all the expenses that Preston has. And then, too, it gets kind of there’s kind of some gray area there when it comes to therapies and things that, like you said, one parent might think that this is. Important and the other parent thinks that it’s frivolous and we shouldn’t spend money on chiropractic or we shouldn’t spend money on supplements, and I just wish that there was more that we had sat down more and talked about it before so that we could have been on the same page. But I mean, the communication, it depends on with with my ex-husband. It’s and it’s hit or miss. Sometimes it’s really good and sometimes it’s not so good. I’ve learned how to communicate with them better than I used to, but I wish I wish a whole part of the process was sitting down with our attorney and I also wish because I have an advocate now that helps work with me, especially since Preston is about to be 18. We don’t make any of those decisions for what happens to him after he’s 18. There’s none of that is in my decree. And we didn’t discuss it at all.

Basically, when he turns 18 and I mean everything that’s going to stop paying, I don’t know.

And so I’m not going to say that I’m sorry. Now, I just sense that we have met that. You raised that point a couple of times. And I would tell you, that’s probably the number one issue that I think gets litigated through this process for attorneys. And that is under considered exactly what you’re talking about, the financial impact, because in Texas, I mean, like so obviously most parents don’t know that in Texas and in Florida, that is that can affect child support.

So the thresholds, the statutory amounts that are created in Texas are designed based on typically a 60 40 split in time. But it doesn’t anticipate special needs. It doesn’t anticipate additional costs. And you can absolutely go above guidelines for those types of issues. You can also say, hey, you know what? In a decree, we know while our child is amazing and he’s not completely self-sufficient. So it’s going to be lifetime support. These are things that can absolutely be contemplated for both parents that he’ll be with me forever.

And so I think it’s important to have. An attorney that understands special needs law and also maybe having an advocate that works with the attorney, because I know that my advocate opened my eyes to lots of things that I had no idea. And even funds that I had access to are things that he thought he said, man, could have done this before and had help or had respect because Preston, he’s not independent. He has to have somebody with him all the time that I work and have a business. And, you know, I just paid out of pocket for everything. You know, I didn’t realize that there might be some help out there. And also, even just with the school system, the advocate helped me to make support for him.

So when you have divorcing parents and what kind of commonalities do you think are good common rules at the various households, common plans of action? What what kinds of things do you think? We’re not talking about necessarily your situation. Let’s talk about the quote unquote, perfect world you have to divorcing parents. Let’s say they’re getting along. What kinds of things do you think are good for them to do if they have a special deal? So they have a severely special needs child who needs a lot of a lot of help? What kinds of things are would be, you know, from your personal experience, what kind of things would be good for them to do? Communication wise, consistency was all that stuff.

Yeah, having consistency at home, and that means with the schedule communicating bedtime, bedtime is such a huge thing no matter what age they are, but for special needs to because they’re often overwhelmed and have sensory issues and they get tired and just having those same bedtimes same time to wake up some of the same routines and even having things at one house that and having it at the other house too, see if they have like sensory things or am elated, fast or weighted blankets at one house that they might need for something that they then might have it at the other house. We’ve done a pretty good job of communicating that stuff and having that be similar over there than it is at my house. But I think that’s really important to have it not be a shock at completely different at one house than the other and then talk about, oh no, no, no, I don’t want to stay like this.

A lot of kids with special needs have behavior challenges. And I have worked a lot with kids, with behavioral challenges and in home and in schools. And I just think it’s so important the consistency of how it’s handled. And when a behavior comes up, how is it handled? What are you saying to the child and what is the consequence or what is the how do you prevent it and doing it across homes or else the child gets asking this in. A lot of families that I’ve worked with actually from divorced homes and they’re confused. They’re not sure when they can get away with it. And so then the behaviors escalate. And and and I think that’s a huge thing for kids like Preston who can go there and have behaviors and they might like one house more than the other. Maybe there’s not consistency. So I think that’s really important.

Ok, I’m going to jump in to like the other huge decision that that’s involved in this joint managing conservatorship that we’re talking about is the medical decisions and the psychological/psychiatric decisions. I mean, those things are also crucial. I mean, depending on the level, like I said, the level of severity on a special needs child. Some of them have medical, you know, severe medical issues. Some of them some of them don’t, some of them more psychiatric or psychological issues that need to be addressed. But, you know, talk to us a little bit about the legal aspect of that.

So, yeah, I mean, I think that what parents really need to understand and comprehend is when you’re talking about conservatorship with special needs children, it really is far reaching. It can be as simple as dental care. I’ll give you an example. I represented a client, childhood spinal bifida and one they had to contemplate. How do we do this? So wisdom teeth were coming in abscess to the infection. Now we’re going to have to go do oral surgery. Who do we use? I want to go to just a dentist. I want to go to an oral surgeon. I’m saying, like all it’s simple decisions that can really balloon into really complex situations for parents. And these rights are far reaching. So you really need to spend some time with an attorney who knows what they’re doing to kind of explain these to you so that you understand what each element of the conservatorship package that we’re talking about right now, these rights and duties, how it really affects your child, how it affects the relationship potentially between these two parents relating to this child.

And that’s really what I would advise both people to do. If you have a special needs child and are contemplating divorce or in a divorce, your post-divorce and things aren’t working out, like sit down with somebody who can really help explain to you what these are and how they can work, because while they’re written in law, you know, the foundation of our family law is contract law. Right? So you can fill between good parents, come up with a very creative solution in an order that is enforceable, that will help both parents and give them structure and guidance for that child as they go for.

And the one good thing from a legal standpoint is you’re talking about medical decisions and psychiatric psychological decisions. You’ve got a medical professional there that let’s say you need a tie breaker, you know, on a on a medical decision that two parents can absolutely say, yes, if we can agree this medical professional professional is going to be the one to make the tiebreaking call. So you can call in the area of contract contract right away and say, OK, we’re going to have this medical doctor or this psychologist or psychiatrist make this call if we can’t come to an agreement on. And I think that’s the one thing that’s different from the educational aspect of a lot of times you’ll have school districts that not only know we don’t want to get involved and want to get involved, but absolutely a medical professional who can make a decision that they believe is best for a child.

Absolutely. And I guess along Stephanie’s financial piece, the other piece I would add to that, Bryan, is you don’t really contemplate for parents, especially in Texas, but Florida as well is before those child, those children turn 18 and get to the point where they’re potentially emancipating from. You really evaluate the financial position that you’re in in relation to child support, because you need to get into court and have a court contemplate that child support obligation, go forward post 18 before they turn 18. It’s much more difficult of a conversation I found in court to come back in after a child is 18, potentially. Maybe they’re in a special needs program that’s like a college or junior college or but they’re still living at home. And so that obligation remains with one parent. But guess what? Now there’s not a position and access schedule. Now there’s not a child support schedule to go forward. There’s not a really split down for those expenses continuation of health care coverage. I mean, the list goes on and on and on. So I would just really encourage people to kind of contemplate that both as they’re planning for divorce while they’re in divorce. And then if you’re getting to that age and you’ve got an old decree, really sit down with a a licensed qualified professional to give you some advice about what you can do to keep that going.

Stephanie, what has been your kind of experience with medical, psychiatric, psychological decision making, is that been a tough road or is or is it is that a little bit easier or kind of how does that work?

Sometimes. Sometimes I think it’s tough. I think he and I have very different ideas about an. Treatments and stuff like that medically. So, yeah, we’ve run into some hiccups, I think. I think I can say this, but I think it’s an important thing to bring up is that they have a stepmom and they have a step dad now and that the step mom has tried to make medical decisions, but really and educational also has met with the school and different things that I think it’s important that that’s addressed because really she doesn’t have rights to do that. But that’s been kind of our challenge is is, you know, other people making decisions, step mom making decisions. But as far as medically, I mean, we don’t go to the doctor all the time or anything like that. But I mean, it’s been pretty civil with us. I guess I make most of the decisions with I mean, is that normal?

I mean, is it normally default to one parent just has to kind of do it because, you know, I in your house more they have the child more or they’re more in tune with what’s going on on a day to day basis.

Yeah, I’m more in tune to what Preston needs and when he’s had therapies before, when we saw biomedical doctors for him for years, I was the one that made all those decisions. So anything that we’ve done since being divorced, most of the time I make those decisions, but I run it by him and make sure that, you know, I’m thinking about doing this. Are you on board or doing red light therapy right now? I ran it by him before I put him in the red light. Then, you know, just I mean, just sort of as a courtesy. I’m sure it’s courteous. It’s, hey, this isn’t going to harm him. It’s a red light, but it is a treatment. And so we talk about it, you know, and things like that.

So it is important to kind of be on board and kind of have the same treatment if you’re going to have a treatment regimen where same medication has to be administered.

Yeah, it’s important to have the same things like giving the medications at the same time every day or houses as that and all the communication back and forth on how they’re reacting to the medication and if it has to be changed, that sort of stuff.

Yeah, that’s where I think the journal is important. The communication is important. And even if it’s supplements, CBD, oil or whatever you can have, the school will say always super hyper on these days, but not on these days. And just keeping the understanding there, it’s because he’s going from one has to another and it’s not being done at the house.

So I think it’s fair to say that it’s probably best for two parents who are divorcing that have a special needs child to maybe try to be bigger people. Put those things aside, because it really is a super challenge, you know, and you have to you have to be an adult on a different level to to be able to navigate that with the other person.

Exactly. I always said I’ll take the high road every time and you just put the child first. My kids come first their needs. And all this bickering, who’s right and who’s wrong isn’t important anymore.

And it’s about. Yeah, let’s talk a little bit about the like the other the other child. I mean, obviously you have a child who’s a fairly atypical of of children at his particular age. I mean, how does a special needs child impact with other siblings? Because obviously there’s so much attention that has to be devoted to the special needs child just because I mean, that’s just unfortunately, the life. So how does that that kind of thing impact of a normal child?

Yeah, I actually asked my son about this this morning, again on the way to school, and he said he felt like it’s hard for him. Question gets a lot of attention. He has a lot of needs. He’s loud. So I said he’s very noisy. Mommy is noisy all the time. It’s very challenging in the same way.

Bryan’s the same way.

I am the same way.

And people are just noisy. But he’s happy. He’s just noisy. But it’s important to acknowledge that child’s feelings, to have to get therapy for them. If he’s fifteen, he’s amazing. He’s a musician, he’s an actor, but he gets therapy and he loves it. It’s amazing person. He’s been a great mentor to him and he can talk to him about things that, you know, and just and move forward with things and cope. But also just having one on one time with the neurotypical child. I’ve taken him on trips. I try to take him on dates and I try to communicate, too, with his dad to do the same. And he also gets time with my dad. So just trying to get that. Will time where he’s not, because we have to manage question all the time and and gets kind of, you know, he’s so good that he just because I because I kind of see it as you have two parents that are divorcing.

So obviously that’s a trauma for a child, for any child, then you have a special needs child, requires a lot of attention, and then you compound the you know, the amount of traumas that are involving a child and a child who’s fairly, fairly typical. And does that child feel left out as what’s the what are the kinds of things you have to do in that child’s world crumbling to when two parents get a divorce? So what what kind of things are, from your experience, like what? What kinds of things are important if you have a young child and you’re going through this? What do you tell that? What do you tell that child?

Yeah, I was always really honest with Reagan, but I’m very up front with him and he can he can tell his feelings to me, I never hushed him. Like, we don’t talk about that. We’re just moving on. I mean, we try to move on and I try to keep things super positive. But I listen to him, too. Whenever I mean, every once in a while, they’ll have a moment where he says it’s not fair. That’s just as I come from divorced parents and that and I have a special needs brother and and I just let him have those feelings. I also keep in mind, I think this is one of the most important things to say today, too, is like not to badmouth the other parent into you know, I don’t talk about his dad to him.

I will talk honestly with him, but I’m not going to badmouth him and I’m not going to tell him how terrible his father is and all of these different things. I don’t try to I try not to highlight that, but I also let him have a voice. If he’s upset with his dad, I let him say that and I listen and I honor those feelings. And then I also, like I said, he has therapy where he can talk to a person who’s not involved and you can look at everything and help him to cope. I think it’s.

Yes. So let’s let’s talk about the situation is jumping a little bit. Let’s talk about the situation. We touched on this before about a child who is reaching adulthood, who has a say, say, a special need that’s going to require full time care. Sam, what do you want me? Because I’ve litigated these issues, too. And it becomes one that I found that a lot of people start forgetting that this support, this child support is is for a child that’s never going to be that you have a responsibility to take care of. That’s never going to be an adult member of society. The way that an adult goes out and gets a gets a job and has a household and has a family and all that kind of stuff, that child is going to require care, full time care for the rest rest of his or her life. And, you know, I’ve often found that in litigating these things that that gets lost. Oh, she’s just trying to take me for more money and get me paying for the rest of my life and this and that and and all that. And it.

Even the amount of child support that that’s ordered typically doesn’t cover, you know, if you have to leave a job to take care of a full time caregiver, of an adult, of an adult child, that that can’t take care of him or herself. That’s where that’s a hotly litigated issue because, yes, there are some some federal, federal, Social Security and different things that you could potentially get that kind of offset those things. But what does that care look like long term after 18?

Sam, what do you think?

Yeah, you’re absolutely right, Bryan. The biggest concern that I always have for parents and not just the special needs children, but especially for special needs children is when you talk about health care costs of any kind, whether it be for counseling, whether you’re going to talk about, you know, medical care, whether it’s going to be continuing therapy, physical therapy, there’s a there’s a big price tag for that.

And child support, as you and I both know, it’s the minimum amount that you’re supposed to pay to. The state came up and said no less than this is required for basically lights to stay on and groceries maybe to be in the refrigerator. It’s not designed to help parents be able to navigate children’s needs who have special needs, whether it be medical needs, psychological needs, physical needs. I mean, any of those things are going to add tremendous amounts of pressure and stress on that parent. And, you know, the big part of it to Bryan is what I try to tell clients that I’ve litigated these issues with is I want the order to be representative of your relationship. I think that’s the cleanest way that I can paint a picture for a client is to say whatever your roles are, however you guys relate. So to Stephanie’s point, if you’re the person who does the majority of the decisions, who does the majority of the work, and there’s the other parent who they are, they pay money, but they’re kind of like the Disney dad or mom. That’s fine. Everybody has a role. We kind of follow those when we fall into a relationship that should be cemented in an order, both thinking about it, like how do we make decisions for these children, but also the financial implications of that.

Because this case that I was talking about this this child had spinal bifida. He spinal before that, he was he was going to be in his wheelchair for life. He was going to have care for life. He was high functioning, really smart kid. But there was no way he could provide for his own care. So he was going to be with one of those parents. But one of those parents absolutely did 90 percent of the time. And care for the other parent was basically just paying funds. And so when we got to the courthouse, it was really easy to see that this other individuals like I don’t want to be paying this big price tag, which will get bigger. Right. As a special needs child, because who knows? What happens is that child continues to age and grow. You know what issues may come up. They’re thinking, well, eighteen is when most people stop paying for that. We’ll know this child is going to be with the parent for the rest of their lives. That means health care coverage. That means, you know, co-pays. That means medication. That means also that means counseling. Yeah.

It also means potential guardianship because you have an adult that you may have to make decisions for. So who’s going to be the guardian of that child? You may have to go through a guardianship proceeding. That’s another another piece of the puzzle that has to be discussed. And there’s not really visitation orders after 18. But I mean, if you have a if you have a child that, you know, that severe special needs, I mean, that’s that could have to be contemplated.

Yeah, absolutely.

And, you know, judges look at that and they’re like, hey, well, it’s a very complicated conversation to have with parents, I would imagine, Stephanie, like because you’re contemplating this going forward. You’re looking at it saying like, how do we navigate this going forward? Because if a parent checks out, you’re a hundred percent.

That’s exactly what’s happening right now, exactly what’s happening right now. Preston turns 18 in September. And there’s there’s nothing written in there for what happens after he turns 18 and two. I think you mentioned the Sambit kids. They’re supposed to be able to be in public school till they’re twenty one. Now that it’s changed a little bit as they’re trying to graduate them out, Preston will probably get one extra year, but he’ll still be in school when he’s 18 and 19 in the public school. And so I think sometimes it gets a little bit gray because and parents will forget, like, you know, they go out there and things will just stay the same until they turn 18. And then all of a sudden you go, oh, my gosh, what happened? Which is why I’m seeing an advocate next month and then, of course, end up. You know, I mean, I’m glad that we’re doing this because this is helping me today, you know, I’m thinking about it’s making me think about these things even deeper. And now legally, it has a.

As a parent, I mean, what do you think parents should should think about in this particular situation? Obviously, you have some real first world experience.

So, I mean, the financial needs of a child, like he said, I mean, all of this I mean, it’s expensive to have any child, but the special food, clothes, all those expenses. And to that, I don’t know what you said about the possession. You can write that in there. But I mean, he spends he sees his dad one weekend a month and then every Thursday and Friday night. I don’t know if that’s something that can continue. Or, you know, if both of us agreed on it, maybe it could continue, I’m not sure what a judge would decide on something like that for after 18.

But I mean, a lot of times that depends on the child and it depends on the need and it depends on the, you know, the functioning level of the child. I mean, there’s so many when you get past the age of 18, you know, they don’t have the obviously you have you’re dealing with what our society is deemed as an adult. So you have to you have to take their rights into consideration as well and say, OK, this does one parent need to get a guardianship of this child potentially because decisions are going to have to be made that this child can’t make for himself or herself. And that’s that becomes a real deal. And then the guardian within the court can make certain determinations on, say, a guardian, say, an adult guardianship. The court can make certain determinations like, hey, you’re going to live in this facility, you’re going to live with this person. You’re going this person is going to guard. This person is going to be the guardian of the estate. This person is going to be the guardian of the person and make all the medical, financial or medical and educational and all those kinds of decisions. So there’s there’s that whole a whole nother element that comes into this thing that makes it makes it a little bit more tricky, because, like I said, you have to take into account that that child’s rights as well, because that child is no longer a child, that child is an adult, and that child has his or her own rights. And, you know, the court is always going for the least restrictive alternative. I mean, that’s something that you hear judges say time and time again. What’s the least restrictive alternative we can give this particular child or person under a guardianship that we can so they can live as normal a life as possible and get the help that they need. So that’s that’s the tricky balancing point that that but that’s often litigated.

Then I have a question. Can I say something if you want?

This might be helpful to something or somebody. That’s where I was 10 years ago, which is is it’s making decisions after 18, something that you recommend people do when you’re first writing the decree or is that something? Because basically what they said to me was my attorney said, we’ll address this later. And and that’s what was said literally. We will address this later. And we never spoke a word of it. So I don’t know exactly how you guys do that. But that might be helpful to somebody who has younger children. That’s not about that.

But is it something that I would tell you? I would tell you that, yes, you try to you try to resolve as much of that as you possibly can. However, obviously, you have to take into account and judges, at least in my experience, oftentimes judges don’t necessarily tackle what’s going to happen at 18. They’ll say, OK, we’ll deal with that, especially let’s say you’re getting divorced at seven or eight years old. They’ll say, OK, well, you have ten years and you come back later and we’ll deal with it at that time because everything may have changed by then. And like I said, it also depends on the special need and the severity of it. And what this what kind of treatment or what the progression of this individual child is, is going to be, because obviously some children make super strides and they’re on their way far along and then some don’t ever make any strides. Every every kid is different.

So it’s hard because you really got to look at I mean, this is where you really got to sit down with your attorney and look at, OK, what are the specific issues? What’s the medical kind of diagnosis? What’s the you know, how do I feel about this? What do I what do I feel like is the most important things to advocate for at this particular moment in time? And then what what are the things that can wait till later?

Because it’s it’s hard. It’s just it’s a it’s the unknown future, right? I mean, I don’t know that any lawyer could give you, like, super advices. I think you try to lock down as much as you possibly can of what you know, of what the absolute known things are. You try to lock down as much as you can, but and a lot of instances, either you have an unwilling or an unwilling other party that’s not willing to work with those things. Sometimes you have a and you have to get the case off of you have to get the case finalized at some point. And sometimes you can’t resolve those things. Sometimes those things are kicked down the road a little bit. Sam, what do you think? You might have a different perspective than I do know. I mean, and I feel like I’m kind of missing both.

The only thing I would tell you is it’s been helpful in my experience to bring in an expert. Right. So really having somebody who understands care, concern, treatment, evolution of those special needs, whatever they may be, bring them into the process and then bring them in as your expert or if you’re going to try to, like, do more of a collaborative process, bring them in for both parties to hear from this neutral person who has experience long term with these types of situations to say, hey, guys, you know, when he turns fifteen, hormones affect them differently when he turns 18. He’s not going to be able to drive, so you have to contemplate, like all of these kinds of things, they can tell you. I mean, like if I ask you, Stephanie is a master’s degree in early education. I’m sure you tell me. Yeah, well, here’s the natural evolution of things that you should kind of contemplate. Having that type of expertise in the conversation early is really important because it’ll help you think through a creative order, really try to stay away from cookie cutter as the other piece.

I mean, really spend some time with your lawyer crafting a custom divorce decree that can grow with you because that can be a living, breathing document if it’s done correctly, and it’ll save you time and money of having to come back into court to do it again later.

But you want to get that finding, plus you want to get that finding from the court that this child is a child with special needs and those special needs may require changes as we go down the road.

Absolutely. And that’s what I was going to say. I anticipate litigation. There’d be the other piece is really you should tell your lawyer like, OK, so, you know, I like him. He’s OK. We’re getting divorced. But what if he marries the worst person in the world who wants to try to insert herself and make decisions or hates my guts and doesn’t want to do anything?

He doesn’t believe in medication, doesn’t believe in vaccinations, whatever it may be like, try to anticipate worst case scenario and include provisions. And and I think it’s tremendously helpful to have a better order. There’s no such thing as a perfect order. You may still have to come back to court, but make sure again, make sure you do that before that child turns 18. If you’re going to contemplate these things, whether it’s going to the probate court to consider guardianship or you’re coming back in to modify child support to try to get it to be a carry over to lifetime, I mean, these expenses unpaid. Don’t let it get to the point where they’ve matured. They’re considered an adult. It just changes the conversation.

It increases the complexity to by any by a large margin. So, Stephanie, let’s talk a little bit about you personally, obviously. Tell us a little bit about your about your business and what you do.

I actually I taught school actually for off and on for 20 years and a lot of behavior units. And then I taught than I did in therapy with kids. And then I kind of went off and became my life coach. And so I’m a vision coach. I do a lot of workshops. I work one on one with people. I’ve worked with businesses on developing vision. I also do I have a healing room now in my house. And so I do around the touch massage and some other and healing mechanisms with and I’ve actually worked a lot with families of special needs moms in my coaching and in the healing aspect of it. But yeah, and I do essential oils. I think they’re really important for calming.

So if somebody so if somebody wants to talk to you about something professionally, how do they get in touch with you?

I’m on Facebook. It’s Stephanie Daniels Quade.  It’s a good way to get a hold of me. A lot of people do it that way. Bliss Coaching and Healing is the name of my business. I’m kind of revamping it right now because I just changed the name and then it’ll be launched, probably the new website in the next three to four weeks.

Ok, me and Sam will be contacting you because we need, we need a vision and we need that. We need some life coaching. There definitely need to have.

So, Sam, for us, Sam, tell us where you are. You’re in Fort Worth. What’s the best way to get in contact with you?

The best way to get get a hold of me is you can reach our office at 469-844-7181. You want to reach out to me directly? My number’s 817-914-5470. Or you can shoot me an email. I’m usually pretty, pretty good about getting back to you that way at ssanchez@www.aswlawoffice.com.

I guess I’m the same or visit us as www.aswlawoffice.com. My phone numbers 281-374-4741. You can reach me on my cell phone at 214-724-6106. We’re pretty accessible. We we are happy to help you out with your legal questions. And Stephanie, I wanted to thank you so much for agreeing to come on with this. I think this was an awesome, awesome segment that we can really, really help a lot of people. So I really appreciate your time.

I appreciate both of you. Bryan has given me amazing advice over the past many, many years. We’ll keep him because I was I was calculating a little bit this morning on how long I’ve known you, and it’s been almost thirty years. I can’t believe it’s been that long, but we all grew up together.

A two-year-olds, apparently.

Yes. Yes, that’s right. Yeah, exactly.

When I was an infant.

So anyway, thank you so much.

I really appreciate it. I mean, I think people are going to get a lot of benefit. I mean, you have such a good first world experience dealing with this. And I think your your life experience can help a lot of people. So thank you so much.

So welcome any time. Appreciate it.

All right. Thank you for coming on today. That is it for us, and we will see you next time. Thank you so much. And we will talk to you soon.

Thank you.

Thank you for listening, and we hope you enjoyed the Top Texas Lawyers Podcast. If you’d like to schedule a consultation with either Bryan or Sam, please call 1-888-981-7509. Or visit us on the web at www.aswlawoffice.com. Once again, that’s www.aswlawoffice.com. Thank you very much.

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