Going through a divorce is never easy and even more challenging when special needs children are involved. In fact, parents with a special needs child are more likely to get divorced on average than other couples, which makes planning for the child’s future medical and financial needs crucial. The best decision you can make to protect your child’s interests if you are divorcing is to consult an experienced estate planning attorney.
E.A. Goodman Law, LLC provides comprehensive estate planning services to clients throughout the state of New Jersey. We have a well-earned reputation for standing by our clients and providing ongoing advice and counsel for special circumstances. Knowing that a divorcing couple with a special needs child faces extraordinary challenges, we will offer you informed representation and reliable service when you need it most.
How do I plan for my special needs child during a divorce?
There are a host of considerations involving divorce and children with special needs, starting with custody and visitation. While such determinations in New Jersey currently recognize the role that both parents play in a child’s life, parents typically work out an agreement where one parent has primary custody and the other has overnight, weekend and holiday visitation.
While this type of arrangement is challenging for any child, a special needs child is more susceptible to environmental changes. In this regard, special consideration must be given to maintaining the child’s medical appointments, therapy, and tutoring, as well as any medical equipment that the child may need during his or her visitation. Another thing to consider is how close the noncustodial parent’s home is to medical professionals. As such, a child custody agreement must have provisions that cover such exigencies.
Protecting the Financial Future of a Child
Given that your child may have significant medical and financial needs, the amount of support that a parent will be required to provide is potentially unlimited. Once the child turns 18, however, consideration must be given to the fact that any financial support is deemed “unearned income” for purposes of determining a special needs child’s eligibility for public benefits, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) that the child may ultimately receive as a young adult. Generally, the income limit for SSI is currently $771 per month for an individual.
In this situation, the best way to preserve your child’s eligibility for public benefits is to establish a special needs trust. When the child turns 18, any financial support can be redirected into the trust, giving the child access to much-needed income without forfeiting government benefits. A properly designed special needs trust will provide financial assistance for any care above and beyond what the government provides, such as:
- Home furnishings
- Vehicle or travel expenses
- Out-of-pocket medical expenses
It is important to note that the trust funds cannot be used to pay for the recipient’s food and shelter (e.g. recipient’s rent, mortgage, utility bills, property taxes), however, the disabled beneficiary can retain a primary residence and one motor vehicle without jeopardizing government benefits because such property is not counted as an asset for purposes of SSI.
Other Considerations for Divorcing Parents with Special Needs Children
At E.A. Goodman Law, LLC, we believe that a well-conceived estate plan will prepare you for the expected and the unexpected, including divorce. If you are divorcing and have a child with special needs, there are important first steps to take, such as:
- Have a financial plan — Given that caring for a child with special needs can be a financial burden, especially in a divorce, it is crucial to have an ongoing financial plan that includes child care support after the child turns 18. To cover your special needs child’s housing and medical needs while preserving his or eligibility for government benefits, consider a special needs trust.
- Create a medical plan for your special needs child — Your child custody agreement must contain provisions for legal custody, which is each parent’s right to make decisions about the child’s health, education and welfare. In the event of a medical emergency, it is crucial to ensure that you have adequate healthcare coverage and to create a medical plan of action to clarify parental responsibilities and to keep everyone informed about any medical decisions.
- Designate guardians — While a will is the most basic estate planning tool, it is also the only way to name guardians for minor children in the event that one (or both) parents dies. By naming a guardian who is capable of caring for a child with special needs as well as securing funds in a special needs trust, you can establish emotional, medical and financial support for your child when you are not able to do so.
Ultimately, creating a parenting plan that considers these and other issues requires the advice and guidance of an experienced family law attorney. Our legal team routinely collaborates with a network of attorneys and financial advisors to assist divorcing couples with special needs children.
Why Choose E.A. Goodman Law?
If you are divorcing and have a child with special needs, you likely have concerns about protecting your child as well as your interests. At E.A. Goodman Law, we can help to take the stress out of the process by offering you knowledge and support and making sure all of your family’s future financial and medical needs are met. Please contact our office today to set up a free consultation.