Divorce Modification with a Special Needs Child

Archer Consulting Case Study – Divorce Modification with a Special Needs Child

Nancy and Bill were divorced eleven years ago, and are the parents of 17 year -old Adam, diagnosed with autism at an early age.

Background       

Nancy and Bill were divorced eleven years ago, and are the parents of 17 year -old Adam, diagnosed with autism at an early age. At the time of the divorce, Adam was six years old and the settlement was fairly standard: Nancy receives child support equal to 25% of Bill’s income, said support to end when Adam graduates from high school. No provisions were made in the event Adam was deemed to be disabled.

Current Situation

Fast forward to today: Adam is in the special education group at the local public school, where he will remain until expected graduation the year he turns 22. His intelligence is in the normal range however, his functional capacity is low. It is expected he will need supervised care for the remainder of his life. Current neuropsychological exams confirm his disability as defined by Social Security. Adam will be eligible for government benefits when he turns 18 in 4 months, benefits that will become a critical component of the financial cornerstone for his lifetime care plan.

In the meantime, Bill is remarried to Joan, who has two children of her own, living in the family home. Nancy has also remarried – husband John has three grown children who live on their own. Nancy and John are the primary caregivers for Adam, although he enjoys a relationship with his father, stepmother, and step siblings.

This family’s scenario is very complex, but also quite common in the special needs planning world. The divorce rate in the special needs community is high – families are under exceptional stress. Balancing the needs of all family members may require the help of a third party. Nancy contacted her original family law attorney about going to back to court to amend the original divorce decree. Realizing he may be held liable for an original settlement that didn’t address the ongoing nature of Adam’s disability, the attorney contacted Archer Consulting to identify all critical issues and find solutions that met an array of needs.

Analysis

Since Nancy is, and will continue to be, his primary caregiver, it is important she continue receiving the child support necessary for his care. In order for Adam to receive this means-tested benefit, he cannot directly receive monthly income. Also, both parents and their new spouses need to do estate planning that protects not only Adam’s interests, but those of all the children of the two couples. These are but a few of the issues facing families caring for a loved one with special needs.

Recommendations

The Archer Consulting Advisor was able to quickly pull together a team consisting of all the professional experts necessary to develop and implement a plan that worked for everyone:

An attorney that concentrates on special needs issues was brought in to draft the language needed for the divorce modification, as well as completing the guardianship process in probate court.

A benefits specialist identified and made application for the appropriate government benefits.

An Archer Consulting mediator, working in conjunction with attorneys representing all involved parties, educated all family members about what needed to happen, then helped the parties create a plan that addressed everyone’s needs.

A financial advisor, who focuses on working with the special needs planning model, created an appropriate investment strategy that allowed for long-term care for Adam.

The Archer Consulting Advisor helped the family develop a crisis management plan, as well as beginning the evaluation of residential settings for the time when neither Nancy or Bill will be able to manage Adam’s care.

Results

The result was an integrated, holistic plan that maximized quality of life for Adam and the entire family.