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Benefits should be considered in special-needs divorce planning

This blog has previously discussed the fact that parents of special-needs children may have to do more planning and negotiation than other parents, when they get divorced or separate. Putting together a shared child custody implementation plan in Massachusetts was touched on in a prior post. While most parents of such children are used to having to go the extra mile for their kids, there may be things that do not occur to them when contemplating how to proceed in a family court situation. One of these may be how any family court order could affect benefits received for the child in question.

Special needs kids in Massachusetts may receive cash benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) in the form of Social Security Disability (SSD) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Because SSD is an entitlement program and not income-based, it may not be affected by a family court order.

SSI, on the other hand, does have a means test. Some orders that could be issued in a divorce case could affect those benefits. Alimony payments, for example, will likely be counted as income and could place a family outside of the allotted level required to maintain their SSI benefits. Child support payments might also result in a reduction of benefits.

Another consideration might be the Medicaid program. Because Medicaid also requires means-testing, certain ordered cash payments, such as alimony or child support could create a situation where the child is no longer covered medically. There may be ways parents can plan around this, perhaps during child support negotiations, or an agreement for in-kind payments. For example, purchasing items for the child’s benefit, which may not be counted as income by the federal programs.

The above solutions will generally be tenable only if the parents are willing to work together and put aside their differences for the good of the child. While divorce tends to take an emotional toll on everyone involved, it is important to remember the big picture in these cases. Parents who would like to know more about how to protect benefits during a divorce may wish to consider contacting a Massachusetts family attorney with experience dealing with special needs families.