How Does Divorce Change if I Have a Disabled Child?

One of the most difficult aspects of any divorce is determining custody for the couple’s children. Divorces are frequently stressful situations, and vindictive parents may unintentionally hurt their children or their children’s relationships with the other parent. It’s absolutely crucial for parents heading into a divorce to never use their children as leverage, and to make custody arrangements that are in the children’s best interests.

Arranging custody for a child of divorcing parents is even more complicated if the child is disabled. Every situation will have unique variables, but it’s important to have some idea of what to expect if you are the parent of a disabled child facing a divorce in the near future.

Long-Term Financial Support

When discussing custody and support for a disabled child, it’s vital to consider the child’s long-term needs. Depending on the severity of the child’s disability, arranging care for the child could be extremely expensive. If the divorcing parents have different financial situations, such as one parent earning far more money than the other, this is taken into account. The parents’ access to child care is also important. If one parent lives much closer to the child’s primary physician, this also plays a role in the custody determination.

Disabled children also often qualify for federal or state disability benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid. When divorcing parents negotiate child support, payments should be tailored in such a way that the child will qualify for these benefits. Although some parents may want to secure as much as possible from the support-paying parent, this doesn’t always work out to the child’s benefit. It’s important for both parents to try and put aside any hard feelings and work out a payment structure that affords the child as many benefits as possible.

The child’s parents must also establish a long-term plan for the child’s education and any medical or psychological treatment. Depending on the child’s disability, the severity of the disability, and the child’s capacity for self-sufficiency, this plan could change in the future. Divorces can sometimes be contentious, but putting aside parental disagreements and approaching these proceedings diplomatically will work out better for the child’s future.

Special Needs Trusts

Parents of a disabled child, even when divorcing, should consider the value of a special needs trust. Essentially, these trusts ensure that a disabled child will receive their usual benefits and maintain their standard of living after the parents are deceased. It’s very important for divorcing parents to collaborate on this issue, and a divorce attorney may not be able to help with establishing a special needs trust.

Special needs trusts also help prevent an inheritance from deceased parents from interfering with the child’s eligibility for public benefits. Without a special needs trust, a disabled child who receives a lump sum from his or her parents’ estates may be technically ineligible to continue receiving public benefits due to the sudden influx of cash. However, a special needs trust configures the child’s inheritance to only disburse payments incrementally to supplement public benefit payments. It’s important to have an experienced trusts lawyer configure a special needs trust so disbursements will not render the child ineligible for public assistance. If a special needs trust is not administered properly, the child’s Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid benefits could be reduced.

If you are a parent of a disabled child and you and your spouse are heading for a divorce, it is important to try and put aside any spiteful urges or negative feelings about your spouse for the sake of the children involved. This is especially true for parents of disabled children, as custody agreements are likely to be far more complex in these situations. Approaching these proceedings without animosity toward the other parent will help the process go more smoothly, and will increase the possibility of a better life for a disabled child.

If you are in a place where you are trying to figure out these incredibly complex proceedings, get in touch with an experienced San Diego child custody lawyer today.