Is retirement possible, post-divorce?

The special finances of divorce with special-needs children

If you’re facing divorce and have a special-needs child, this article is for you. Or if you know someone in that situation, this article is for them. Share it with them, please.

Sadly, parents of special-needs children are under that much more pressure to divorce. That’s because special-needs children put more stress on the marriage. Couples get less time to work on the marriage or simply have a date night or go away for the weekend. It’s a vicious cycle.

I don’t know if there’s a court definition of “special-needs child.” I can tell you, however, that there’s a very wide spectrum of children who I would define this way, in terms of how they affect a divorce.

At one end, you could have a child with ADHD whose medications, school support, and counseling must be adhered to by both parents. There are varying degrees of Down syndrome or autism. And at the other end, there are cases in which there are issues such as brain injury and/or physical disabilities, affecting the child’s ability to get around and perform basic routines such as dressing, eating, and using the bathroom.

Now add divorce into this child’s life, and things get even more complicated.

I can’t change the special needs situation. But I can help you, in my capacity as a CPA, a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional, and a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® professional. I understand your desire to make sure that your child gets the care they need, for as long as they need it.

Taking sides

For special-needs children, the mother is typically the primary caregiver. If that’s you, you know everything about what that child needs, in terms of doctors, care, medication, assistance, and equipment. But you may not know the costs. And that’s important, because figuring out the cost of care, in a divorce case, affects both child support and alimony (a.k.a. spousal maintenance).

And since special-needs kids may have mobility challenges, the geographical proximity between the parents’ homes, post-divorce, matters more. As do things like special vehicles: If there’s currently one modified van that can accommodate a wheelchair, what happens post-divorce? Does it get shared? Does one spouse get a new one? So that’s a parenting-time issue as well as a financial one.

Here’s where I can help you. For example, in Arizona, the court would normally impute the income for a 40-hour work week at minimum wage on a stay-at-home mom, to determine how much she is capable of earning, post-divorce. But if you have a special-needs child, things change. You may not be able to hold down a job, as the primary caregiver. And that child might not “age out” at the “age of majority,” since they may still need care at that time.

Financially, there’s a thing called a special-needs trust, which sets aside funds for the child’s care, and which can’t get “raided” by the other spouse post-divorce. And the trust doesn’t disqualify the child for things like Social Security benefits.

Your attorney can help set up the special-needs trust. And I can help the attorney build the numbers for the best possible outcome. By the way, this isn’t the job for just any family lawyer. There are attorneys who specialize in special-needs cases and creating things like special-needs trusts. I know. I work with them. And if you don’t have one, I can help steer you in the right direction.

Caring for your special-needs child is challenging enough. Adding divorce into the mix is even harder.

Contact me and let me put my expertise to work for you and your child.