Special Needs Planning and Divorce

As happy as someone once was in a marriage, the reality is that relationship dynamics change over time, leading many couples to separate. According to statistics, almost one in two marriages end in divorce.

The experience of a divorce is the direct contrast to getting married. Many people report it as being among the worst experiences of their lives which is understandable considering it means walking away from a relationship you had invested in emotionally and financially.

Parents of Special Needs Children

Questions in the minds of people going through a divorce include what the future will be like regarding finances, parenting, retirement, and relocation, among others. If you feel like divorce is getting the best of you, it would be best to seek help from a therapist, probate and family attorneys, certified divorce financial analysts, and coaches.

If you are a parent to a child with special needs, the challenges of divorce get even more complicated. One of your biggest concerns could be who will take care of them when you cannot, funding their future, and getting the state-provided help they need. If you are in this group, you need to be extra careful when choosing a collaborative professional to assist you in your divorce.

Challenges with Government Benefits

There are several things parents with a special needs child should be aware of when navigating a divorce. One area of concern is government benefits received by the child in terms of Supplementary Security Income and Medicaid.

For a child to receive government benefits, they have to pass a specific set of tests. Poorly written divorce agreements can result in the child losing out on the benefits they are entitled to, so it is advisable to have a family lawyer working with you.

Inheritance Challenges

It is common to have a parent wanting to name a child with special needs as a beneficiary for their accounts or life insurance benefits. While it’s a good gesture for protecting your child’s future, they could be ineligible for means and tested benefits.

So, it is best to consult a divorce financial analyst to determine the best way forward regarding inheritance for your loved one. The best option would be setting up special needs trust for your special needs child.

Not all people like establishing a trust fund for their child, especially if their ex-spouse is the trustee. So, if you have reservations about such an arrangement and feel like you would love to have an independent entity act as the trustee, your special needs planning attorney can help you choose alternative trustees like pooled or corporate trustees.

Access to Education

Divorces are inherently disruptive. Under some circumstances, one party must move from a place they have been calling home. Parents of a special needs child going through an amicable divorce can agree to look for the child’s best interests and tailor their divorce agreements based on that.

If you are concerned about getting a solution that will be in the child’s best interest, it would be best to talk to a special education advocate for help understanding what your divorce could have on your child’s education.

Even when the court offers joint custody to the child, deciding who lives with the child based on what option will be less disruptive to their education is always best.


“Having a professional on your side during a divorce in which children with special needs are involved will be in your child’s best interest. Protecting your children is critical during this time. The decisions made during these arrangements can have lasting effects.” says probate and family attorney Samah Abukhodeir.

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