Planning for care. For life.

Navigating Through Divorce – Complex Medical Challenges and Special Needs Planning

Featured Image

Current statistics in the United States support that approximately 50% of all married couples will someday consider or go through a divorce. Unfortunately, if a family has a child, spouse or close loved one with complex medical challenges or special needs, the rate of divorce increases. Caring for a loved one with special needs, mental health issues, substance abuse challenges or age-related diseases creates enormous stress and pressure on any relationship. Those forces can exacerbate existing relationship issues or create new challenges that lead to separation and divorce.

When a couple makes the difficult decision to separate, meeting medical challenges and special needs can become more complex. For example:

  • Primary caregiving responsibilities and household support and maintenance may change
  • Availability of private funding for essential resources may be impacted (caregivers, therapies, medications)
  • Access to valuable medical insurance and public benefits, both in the short- and long-term, could be impacted
  • Parents may disagree on the long-term quality of life care plan for their child or loved one and the available resources to fund that plan
  • Other family members, including siblings, may face increased pressure to care for a loved one with complex medical needs

Whether amicable or contentious, it is imperative that both parties of any divorce engage to ensure that the medical concerns and special needs for a spouse or child are considered throughout the process. Legal, financial, and other professional advisors providing services during the divorce process have a duty to advise their clients on the financial impact of the divorce.  A Special Needs Analysis can provide essential, fact-based information to ensure that all important factors are considered during the divorce process.

Special Needs Analysis Process

The first step in the special needs analysis process is to work with both parties to objectively evaluate and define the vision specific to the short and long-term care and quality of life plan for the individual with medical challenges or special needs.   Once the vision is defined, it is important to analyze the costs associated with the defined quality of life plan.  The parties can then incorporate those findings into their eventual divorce financial settlement.

During this assessment, plans can also be made to transition caregiving responsibilities, health insurance, housing solutions, and other essential services both during and after the divorce  process to ensure continuity of essential care supports, benefits and other resources.

Finally, it is essential to quantify the current and future value of public benefits (Medicaid, Social Security, etc.) over the lifetime of the individual with medical challenges or special needs. Too often clients and their professional advisors overlook these valuable benefits during a divorce, only to find out after settlement that mandated child support, alimony or the division of assets disqualifies the individual from valuable benefits.  Understanding the availability and value of these benefits will help both parties and their advisors in the consideration of legal and financial vehicles that are purposefully designed to preserve access to benefits, such as Special Needs Trusts and ABLE Accounts.

The strategy of placing funds or paying support payments to a Special Needs Trust or ABLE Account specific to the family member with medical challenges or special needs can also be useful to overcome concerns that one of the parties in the divorce will have an unfair secondary gain. 

Divorce is hard under any circumstances. By taking a thoughtful, considered approach to the future care and quality of life of the individual with medical challenges and engaging with professionals that understand these considerations, the divorce process can be resolved more efficiently and effectively, creating the best possible outcome for all parties involved.

Are you or your client going through divorce? Does a minor or adult dependent child, spouse or close loved one have complex medical challenges or special needs? Contact National Care Advisors today to learn how we can support the divorce process to ensure the highest possible care and quality of life needs are met for the entire family.