Q & A for Divorcing Parents of Special Needs Children
What issues do we need to address with respect to our special needs child and our divorce?
The issues will vary from case to case. The first step is to assess the specific needs of the child. These needs include, but are not limited to: medical, academic, social. The next step is to try to project these needs into the future. A life care plan is an excellent place to start.
How do we address child support if our child may never be emancipated?
This is an excellent question, and is best addressed prior to the final judgment of divorce. Although it is sometimes difficult to predict, it is important to plan for the worst case scenario, that the child will never be emancipated and will be eligible for government benefits. Take precautions now, and put measures in place now, to ensure that your child becomes, and remains, eligible for the government benefits available to her.
If our child is never emancipated, who will make decisions for him?
At some point on or near your child’s 18th birthday, someone will apply for guardianship. The process can take 3 months or more, depending on the court schedule, so it is best to make certain decisions ahead of time. For example, will one parent or both parents be guardians? Will the guardianship be limited, leaving certain decisions to the child?
If our child is receiving government benefits, how to we protect her status?
It is important to make sure that your child does not earn any income. Remember, child support is considered income. By directing child support payments into a special needs trust, you can protect your child’s benefits. A special needs trust, also called a supplemental needs trust, is a trust established to provide funds for a person with special needs while allowing her to remain qualified for government benefits programs. The money in this trust will be used to supplement, not supplant, the government benefits received.
How should I title the beneficiary designation of my life insurance policy?
The special needs trust is an excellent tool for both benefits protection and estate planning. If the trust is drafted properly, the entire life insurance policy can be kept out of your estate, and not disqualify your child from his government benefits. This will enable you to leave the entire policy benefit tax-free for the benefit of your special needs child.