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Special Needs Planning Issues Following Divorce (Part I)

Special needs kidsDivorce can be complicated, frustrating, disappointing, expensive, along with a whole range of other emotions, as anyone who has endured this type of proceeding can attest. As difficult as the issues can be in a divorce proceeding, can you imagine what happens when divorce involves a child with a disability? 

Just in time for our workshop on Special Needs Planning, let's review an often overlooked aspect in this important planning process.  This is the 1st in a three part series offered today, tomorrow and Wednesday .

Let's tackle this issue by focusing on one case study to illustrate how much more difficult the issues can be when a child with a disability is involved in the marital split and how important it is to have someone knowledgeable in government benefits and special needs planning issues participate in the proceedings.

The Facts
Consider the following situation: Husband and wife divorce in 1996, when their child, who is disabled, was 4 years old. The husband was ordered to pay approximately $2,800 per month in child support (considered to be about three times an ordinary child support order based upon his assets and income) for the life of the child. While it is unusual to see lifetime child support payments, and the award was larger than is customary, the husband agreed to this primarily because of the guilt he felt around the divorce. He also knew that his daughter was disabled and would require as much help as possible.

Fourteen years later, in 2010, the daughter turns 18 years old. The husband has since remarried and had another child. He feels he can no longer continue to make child support payments at the current level, and in fact his current wife now assists him in making these payments each month.

The husband wishes to seek a modification of the child support award, and he hires the attorney that handled his divorce years earlier to file the court papers seeking a downward modification of child support payments. The theory behind seeking this downward modification of child support payments is twofold. First, the husband would like to argue that since his daughter has just turned age 18, she can now qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. Second, his daughter could receive services through a Medicaid waiver program, but her income from the child support payment could prevent her from qualifying. Therefore, the husband would like to know if establishing a court-ordered special needs trust to receive the child support payments would protect the child support payments from being counted as income to the daughter.

Tomorrow's blog will examine the issues surrounding qualification for SSI benefits.

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