Hashing-out child support issues can be challenging. They can be especially stressful when you have a special needs child who needs extra care or services. Many special needs children require help beyond the age of majority (typically 18), and parents often wonder how their child will be taken care of should they become unable to do so. Special needs children and adults are often eligible for government assistance, so if you are in the middle of a child support battle, it is important to hire the best child support lawyer you can find. An attorney should understand how child support payments can impact the benefits that a person with special needs receives from government programs, and ensure that a child support order does not put their eligibility at risk.
Child Support Determinations
Many different things are taken into consideration when determining who will pay child support and in what amounts. Child custody arrangements, both parents’ income and earning potential, and other factors impact the amount a child receives. However, in cases involving special needs children, there may be additional expenses to consider, such as educational needs, at-home care, medical treatment, equipment, and medications. It is critical for your attorney to bring these issues to light during the initial support determinations to ensure the cost of your child’s care is fully covered.
Modifications to Child Support Orders
Circumstances change, so it may be necessary to ask the court for a modification to your child support order. It is important to save all of your child’s medical and education records, receipts for treatment and care, and any other documentation of your child’s needs, such as reports from doctors, physical and occupational therapists, mental health professionals, and educators.
Special Needs Trusts
Typically, child support payments stop when a child turns 18. In cases involving special needs children, courts may order that support continue into adulthood. Children and adults with special needs may receive Medicaid, SSI or SSDI, housing, and other government benefits, so making sure that child support amounts do not affect these benefits is vital. One way to do this is to create a special needs trust.
What Is A Special Needs Trust?
There are two types of special needs trusts. A first-party trust holds assets that belong to the beneficiary, including child-support payments, damages awarded in a personal injury claim, and gifts made directly to the child. A third-party special needs trust holds assets that do not belong to the beneficiary, but are used for their benefit by the trustee. If you have a family estate planning attorney, you may want to consult with him or heer about which type of trust will best protect your child’s interests should you pass away or become incapacitated.
It is important to note that Medicaid payback provisions apply to first-party trusts, and child support payments that exceed income amounts for SSI may jeopardize your child’s eligibility for these benefits. Funds in a third-party trust are not subject to these provisions, but may only be used for certain things to ensure the child is still eligible for benefits. Setting up a special needs trust the right way can allow parents to provide for a child while protecting the child’s ability to receive government benefits.
How an Attorney Can Help
If you are considering divorce or need help with matters involving financial support for a special needs child, avoiding these potential pitfalls is essential. Reach-out to our experienced divorce attorneys in Chester County, PA. We can help you understand your options and ensure that the final support agreement is written in a way that protects your child’s interests and any government benefits to which your child may be entitled.