For parents who are separating, child support remains an important topic to discuss and settle prior to the finalization of any divorce documents. However, parents with at least one special needs child will have to think about child support arrangements in different ways as considerations can vary widely and have a lifelong impact.
What is Child Support?
During a divorce, the parents or courts try to replicate the income level the family members are accustomed to prior the divorce. Typically, child support is a set, monthly amount that is sent directly to the custodial parent from the non-custodial parent, or it is routed through a state agency. The goal of child support is to make sure that the children maintain a specific standard of living, even though the parents are no longer together. The amount of child support awarded to the custodial parent depends on several factors that are regulated by state laws.
Why is Child Support Important?
Child support is essential. Without child support in place, a child might go from being in a middle class home to living below the poverty line. Additionally, child support ensures that both parents play some part in raising the child. Even if the non-custodial parent does not see the other child, child support helps raise the child monetarily.
Is Child Support Necessary in Congenial Divorce Cases?
Not all divorces are contentious, which is a good thing. Some divorcing partners are dedicated to equal co-parenting and have simply determined that they no longer want to remain married. Nevertheless, having a legally binding child support plan in place is critical to ensure that both parents be held to their child-rearing and fiscally-related responsibilities.
What Makes Child Support for Special Needs Children Unique?
Under ordinary circumstances, child support helps pay for many different aspects related to child-rearing. For instance, child support can cover the costs of groceries, housing, private school tuition, recreational activities, and clothing. Child support can also carry over into health care and insurance. When a child has special needs, child support may also be necessary to pay for other bills, which can be quite substantial, depending upon the extent of the special needs. Bills may involve money to pay for equipment, therapies, medications, hospitalizations, and round-the-clock caregivers. Additionally, a custodial parent may be unable to work because he or she must stay home to take care of the special needs child.
During a marriage, being a stay-at-home parent may be feasible. After a divorce, it may be nearly impossible for a parent to work part-time, or to work at all, without help from the non-custodial parent in the form of child support. Therefore, child support will be based on the care for the special needs child.
What are the Issues of Child Support and Financial Maintenance?
Divorced parents who have special needs children may receive money from the government to help pay for the children’s care. This money can come from sources like Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Child support is considered to be income in the perspective of the government. If a special needs child receives above a certain amount of income, the child may no longer be eligible for support.
When the child becomes an adult, the issue of child support or financial maintenance as income becomes even trickier, especially if the special needs child can perform some type of work. If the child makes money at even a modest part-time job while receiving child support or financial maintenance, the child may lose needed Medicaid or SSI.
Ways to Arrange Child Support to Avoid Penalties from Medicaid and SSI
If parents are worried about losing their child’s Medicaid and SSI because of child support, they have a few options. One choice is for the non-custodial parent to put all child support money into a special needs trust. In other words, instead of sending the money straight to the custodial parent or guardian, the money goes into a separate account. A special needs trust is not considered income and will not affect a special needs child’s ability to receive Medicaid or SSI.
Another way to vary child support is for the non-custodial parent to pay for specific items, such as the child’s cellphone bill, housing costs for a group home or nursing home, grocery bills, or clothing costs. Again, this money is not considered income, but it does need to be arranged so the special needs child receives the benefits. Many divorce lawyers work with parents of special needs children to ensure that their finances do not penalize the custodial parent or child.
What if a Parent Does Not Pay Child Support?
If a non-custodial parent does not pay child support or refuses to keep up with child support, the custodial parent should talk to a lawyer immediately. Child support is important for the well-being of all children, regardless if they have special needs or not. The state can compel a parent to pay child support, including owed child support.
If a special needs child cannot live alone or lead an independent life, the custodial parent may want to take the non-custodial parent to court to compel a financial maintenance agreement. Financial maintenance for a special needs child is no different than what the child would receive if the parents had stayed together. Either way, the child must be supported and cared for, which is something parents may forget after they have divorced.
Difficulties Parents May Encounter
It can be difficult for some parents, especially non-custodial parents, to forge a strong bond with their special needs child after a divorce. Special needs children may not understand the nuances of divorce. Some may not be able to travel between the parents’ houses because of logistics or problems moving their equipment. This means that a non-custodial parent may end up having very limited contact with their child.
Over the years, such limits may make the parent feel disgruntled about keeping up with child support payments or financial maintenance stipends. Yet, it is crucial that all parents realize that their parental responsibilities, including financial obligations, do not end because a special needs child moves past the age of maturity. Before the divorce process begins, it is beneficial to contact a lawyer as soon as possible. A lawyer will determine the best course of action to ensure that the custodial parent receives adequate child support.
Bucks County Divorce Lawyers at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. Help Clients Receive Necessary Child Support Payments
If you are a divorcing parent with a special needs child and are concerned about child support, contact a Bucks County divorce lawyer at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. today. We help clients through the difficulties of divorce and protect the needs of their children. For a free consultation, contact us online or call us at 888-999-1962. Located in Philadelphia, Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and Pinehurst, North Carolina, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania.