Two Smart Divorce Moves That May Actually Hurt Your Special Needs Child

The goal of many divorcing couples is to make sure the terms of the separation provides for their personal and financial needs. Unfortunately, what may be considered a smart move by parents could actually have a negative impact on their special needs children. Here are two things to watch for and what you can do to avoid problems.

Maximizing Child Support

Children require a lot of financial support, especially when they have mental or physical disabilities. So, it's only natural for a custodial parent to do make sure they get the maximum amount of child support possible from the non-custodial parent. As strange as it may sound, though, doing this could actually cause your special needs child to lose any government benefits they are currently receiving.

Government assistance programs, such as Social Security and Medicaid, have income restrictions. Every dollar in income a child receives often equates to a reduction in benefits by the same amount. In the case of Medicaid, a child that receives too much money becomes ineligible for coverage, which could be devastating for families who can't afford to switch to private insurance.

Unfortunately, the agencies running these programs count child support as income and factor the money in when determining eligibility and payment amounts. There are a couple of ways you can prevent this problem, though. The first is to ask for the least amount of child support possible but have the non-custodial spouse make up the difference in other ways, such as asking them to pay other bills.

Another option is to redirect child support payments to a special needs trust. Money and assets placed in this type of trust are not included in income calculations, so you can put as much as you want in it and not have it affect your children's benefits. Of the two choices, this may be the best one, but you should consult with your divorce attorney to ensure it will work with your particular situation.

Pursuing Joint Custody

When couples divorce, they typically move into separate homes, and the children are shuffled between the two residences according to the custody and visitation agreements. Although this makes sense on paper, it can be disastrous for special needs children, especially those that have mental, emotional, or intellectual disabilities.

Some children need strict routines to function, and disruptions in their routines can cause setbacks in their progress or behavioral problems. Thus, having a child bounce from home to home may do more harm than good.

At the end of the day, you must do what's best for the child, which may entail assigning physical custody to one parent and sharing joint custody in all other aspects. You'll have to come up with some creative ways to address visitation, but that's a small price to pay to ensure your child grows up healthy and happy.

For help with these and other challenges related to divorce, contact a local divorce attorney.