Raising a child with special needs is hard on marriage. Today, the divorce rate among all couples is over 50%. Although statistics differ, there is no question that divorce rates are even higher among parents of children with special needs.
When a couple divorces, it is even more important to consider the financial needs of their child with special needs than those of their other children. Child support charts do not address those needs. A special needs child often has even more expenses than a child without special needs. There are all types of therapies: occupational, speech, physical, psychiatric. There is increased need for paid respite care for the caregiver parent. There are non-prescription costs of vitamins and other dietary needs. There are assistive devices, specialized cars, endless items that children with special needs require.
Child Support for Children with Special Needs
For children who are receiving needs-based government services such as SSI and Medicaid, parents and matrimonial/divorce lawyers should consider establishing a first-party self-settled special needs trust. Child support belongs to the child, not the parent, so the trust cannot be a third party trust. Child support in New York extends past a child’s 18th birthday until they are 21, whereas the child is an adult for Medicaid purposes in New York at 18. Establishing an SNT for those years may be essential to getting proper services for the disabled child.
For those children with special needs who will require a guardian, the divorcing parents should consider which parent, if not both, will become the guardian once the child turns 18.
Many divorce agreements call for the parent without physical custody to pay half of a full-time college education. Those children with special needs who attend college often cannot manage a full-time program and the separation agreement should consider this possibility. Also, the child may continue to attend college well past their 21st birthday, so this too should be considered when making financial decisions as to education.
Redrafting Your Estate Plan after Divorce
Divorcing parents of children with special needs should retain an attorney with experience in special needs planning. If you have any questions, please feel free to call me.