Could 'Chalimony' Bridge the Financial Gap for Special-Needs Kids?
Caring for seriously disabled and chronically ill children can be daunting. In fact, caring for these children is often so demanding that caregiving parents cannot remain fully employed outside the home. Worse, an unusually high percentage of seriously disabled children live with only one parent.
Karen Czapanskiy, JD, professor at the University of Maryland School of Law, routinely sees instances of families with such children going through a divorce, leaving one parent - usually the mother - to provide an unusual degree of care for the child and unable to fully participate in the workplace. Neither alimony (which in most cases is not granted indefinitely) nor child support (commonly expected to be provided by both parents), or even a combination of them, fully addresses the problem, she says.
So, Czapanskiy has proposed a solution: Chalimony.
Chalimony would be a third stream of financial support to provide some relief for the parent whose ability to generate an outside income is impaired due to the unusual demands of taking care of a child with special health care needs. Custodial parents of special-needs children, she notes, often have difficulty committing fully to a job because of the intensive or unpredictable nature of their children's needs.
In an article for New York University Review of Law & Social Change, Czapanskiy writes that caregivers would be entitled to chalimony if three conditions are met. First, meeting the child's reasonable caregiving needs would have to be incompatible with full job-market participation by the caregiving parent. Second, the child's other parent would not be meeting enough of the child's caregiving needs to permit the primary caregiving parent to engage fully in the market. And, third, the economic resources of the paying parent would have to be sufficient to provide chalimony in addition to child support and alimony.
The third condition is a significant hurdle, Czapanskiy acknowledges. But she also sees chalimony as a potential model to guide reform of public benefits, employment, child care, and education, not merely as a remedy for special-needs children of well-off parents.
"A family focus has become the hallmark of first-class social services delivery systems," she writes in the article. "However, the same approach has yet to influence the financial aspects of family law. ... Chalimony would more equitably allocate the financial burdens of caregiving from the perspective of both the payor and the caretaking parent."