How divorce affects special needs children


One of the major considerations in parents' decision to divorce involves their dependent children. Even couples who plan to fight in divorce court are anxious to protect their children from trauma and drama.

Parents who have a child with special needs are particularly concerned. They must face making long-term plans covering complex medical, emotional and financial needs.

Care plans for a special needs child

Specialized care for children with severe disabilities can last well into adulthood and beyond. A subset of these children can require comprehensive lifetime care. Setting up a care plan before or during a divorce, while adding an extra layer of stress, can help protect the child's interests after marital dissolution. Some expenses to consider include:

  • Medical care costs, including nutrition and medication
  • Services for medical transportation and home medical assistance devices
  • Health care insurance costs
  • Rehabilitation therapy and home nursing visits
  • Respite provisions for a custodial care parent
  • Division of parental care responsibilities

Long-term financial plans

Guardianships are often recommended to assist special needs children. Cases unfortunately occur where guardians take extensive financial advantage of the vulnerable people in their care. Parents may want to consider the benefits of a special needs trust for their child. Court settlement assets awarded to the child can be used to establish the trust. Alternatively, parents can make personal financial contributions or use family inheritance assets to fund a special needs trust.

A special needs trust employs tax benefits to protects the child's assets. The trust also preserves the child's eligibility to receive funds from state and federal disability programs. Parents choose a trustee to administer the terms and funds in the trust. They can make particular terms in the trust agreement to cover a wide variety of contingencies unique to their child's condition. They can specify funds for the child's enrichment, such as equine therapy or supervised holidays and vacations. State and federal laws do not allow a trustee to use the child's assets for anything not specified in the trust; if they wish, parents can allow a trustee the discretion to use assets for items such as education or housing construction to accommodate medical equipment. The parents can name a successor trustee to take over should the original trustee prove unable to meet the trust terms. The attorney of either parent can explain the process of setting up a special needs trust.

Although there are many reasons for divorce, best-case scenarios for children often result when parents can engage in an amicable divorce. Maintaining a cordial relationship will help in co-parenting a special needs child after divorce.

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