If you are going through a divorce and you have a child with a disability, you may be panicked about your future finances, especially if your spouse was the primary wage-earner. Now that he or she has left, you may be finding it difficult to even arrange for care for your child because of the child's disability. That can force you into the position of having to quit your job, putting you on an even shakier financial footing. Here are some things that you should know:
1. Your child may now be eligible for SSI, Medicaid, and other benefits.
If your child was previously ineligible for various "needs-based" benefits, like Supplemental Security Income or Medicaid, he or she may become eligible once your spouse has left the house. Even if you have some income, it might not be enough to prevent your child from receiving benefits. You should absolutely apply or reapply for any benefits available. Check with Social Security Administration and your state's Family Services division.
2. Your child's eligibility for benefits should be a consideration in your divorce proceedings.
If your child is facing a lifelong disability, then the divorce needs to take the long approach: a great deal of consideration should be given about how to structure child support payments so that you minimize their negative impact on your child's federal or state benefits, particularly where health insurance is concerned. It may be possible to pay the child support into a special needs trust, for example, which doesn't count against SSI resource limits. If the money from the trust is paid to you for the care of your child, instead of your child directly, the income only has a limited effect on your child's monthly benefits.
3. Your child's extra expenses for additional care needs to be calculated.
When meeting with your divorce attorney, you want to bring with you as many records as you can of additional, non-covered expenses that are a direct result of your child's disability. For example, if you pay for a home health aide to help you bathe an older child several times a week, or you have to pay for a special nurse to watch your child while you go to the store, those expenses may not be covered through the various programs and medical coverage available to your child. Your attorney may ask the judge to consider increasing child support to make sure that your child continues to receive the same level of care that he or she did prior to the divorce.
4. Your inability to get or maintain a job due to caretaking must be considered.
It's important to ask the judge in your case to take into account how the divorce and your child's needs impacts your ability to obtain or keep a career of your own. If you've had to quit your job, forestall your education, or stop work altogether in order to be a full-time parent due to your child's special needs, that's an important consideration when it comes to spousal support. Again, a long-term approach is important: you want the court to consider not only how it impacts you right now, but the impact it will have on any future career you can have in terms of reduced experience and lower potential lifetime earnings.
Some financial apprehension is normal under the best of circumstances. When you have a disabled child, however, those fears can be overwhelming. Talk to your family law attorney about both short-term and long-term solutions before you let your financial fears get control of you.