Entering the divorce process is scary and overwhelming for anyone but adding the complexity of caring for a child with special needs can be even more intimidating. There are additional complexities with child custody and finances that should be considered and spelled out clearly in your agreement. Some of those areas include child support, custody and parenting plan, spousal support, and recordkeeping. Over the next two blogs I will discuss some things to consider in each of these major areas.
Standard child support often ends at age 18 or when the child graduates from high school. However, in the case of a child with disabilities that financial support may need to last for the life of that child. There are state specific Medicaid Waiver programs that could minimize some of that financial support need, but those programs have very long wait list. It’s important to consider all scenarios when negotiating child support. If you are not familiar with Medicaid waiver programs you should contact your state Health and Human Services organization to learn more about what is available in your state.
It is also important to keep in mind that standard child support does not take into consideration extracurricular activities. When you have a child with disabilities those extracurricular costs turn into medical needs such as medications, therapy, or special equipment. You also should consider the caregiving costs, especially if one spouse is no longer able to stay with the child as much as they did prior to the divorce.
Child Custody/Parenting Plan
Special care should be taken when determining child custody and your parenting plan. If your child will be unable to emancipate, there will be life changes you want to consider well beyond your child turning 18. Some of those include how you will handle guardianship, who will make decision about medical care and school, attend Admissions Review and Dismissal (ARD) or Section 504 meetings, etc. Some bigger changes to consider could be what if one of you moves out of the area and can no longer participate in daily care or one of you can no longer be the primary caregiver. Thinking through some of the what ifs is important to determine what you may need to define in your settlement agreement.
As you build out your parenting plan consider keeping detailed records that travel with your child. Note things like their therapy schedule, daily routine and medical needs and medication schedule. A parenting plan is imperative in any situation but could be life threatening for a child with disabilities if not taken seriously by both parents. If you are struggling with these issues bring in third-party counsel who has experience in these matters to assist you.
As you begin to negotiate these various areas of your divorce be sure to also consider and fully understand the ramifications of how these should be outlined in your agreement. One area is with Medicaid Waiver Programs, these services offer much needed help to families and are beneficial for higher income earning families because the eligibility is based on the child’s income. As you structure child support or any beneficiary designation you should consider a Special Needs Trust. Contact your local estate planning attorney that specializes in these types of trust to learn more. Properly structuring and negotiating your divorce agreement will be imperative to the care of your child with disabilities.
There are resources available to aid you and your spouse through this process. I strongly encourage you to include a family law attorney or mediator, therapist for you and your child, estate planning attorney that specializes in special needs trusts, and a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® (CDFA®). For more information contact Next Step Divorce Solutions, LLC.