Last week, I shared the second part of this series, discussing some of the key steps for conscious co-parenting. In this special needs edition, I will focus on the unique challenges that divorce brings when a couple has a child with special needs and discuss how conscious co-parenting and coordinated legal planning are critical to ensure that your child is provided for today and protected in the future.
I serve many families that have children with special needs and a high percentage - nearly 80% - are divorced from their children's biological parent.
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Many of these couples who decide to end their marriages choose a conscious divorce with a promise to continue to take a positive and supportive approach to both the divorce process and joint-parenting efforts, coined "conscious co-parenting."
Conscious co-parenting is a child-centered process, where both you and your ex agree to work as cooperative partners for the sake of your kids. Such collaboration is never easy, but it is even more important with a child with special needs because of the child's unique challenges; the stress on a parent if they are trying to manage their child's care on their own; and the legal implications of not coordinating a financial and legal plan for their child with special needs.
Raising a child with special needs is often stressful and intense - whether it is dealing with your child's IEP or scheduling medical appointments months in advance or driving to countless therapies - it is challenging for two parents. Adding in the emotional and financial toll of divorce creates another real level of complexity.
The tips set forth in the past two articles (Part One and Part Two) to help make conscious co-parenting work for you, are a great starting point; however, your application may look different depending on the level of your child's needs and of course the implications of not applying these tools may have greater negative implications for one, or both, parents:
Working together and sharing responsibilities, mutual respect, and creating a professional plan is going to be critical when considering custody and visitation arrangements, especially when your special needs child may need a more consistent routine than other children; health and medical treatments, therapies, and ongoing appointments must be planned to make sure that the child receives necessary treatment on a timely, consistent and recommended basis; agreeing on education decisions relating to IEP and 504 accommodations is helpful, and, of course, countless additional considerations.
Co-parenting a child with special needs may be a never-ending job. We know that conflict among parents creates stress for our children. Even if your child is non-verbal, the cues of stress are unmistaken. On the one hand, you may need to listen to your ex more than you would like, on the other hand, I do believe that a constant reminder that you are doing the best you can at each moment is important.
Often one parent comes in to address their estate planning needs and to plan for their child's future financial and legal needs. This planning is a critical piece of the puzzle but does the other parent need to taking any action? The answer is a resounding "Yes!" Special needs legal planning must be a coordinated effort. The reason is because even if you establish a special needs trust, ensuring that your assets will flow to your child with special needs in a way that will not disqualify your child from important government benefits, if your child's other parent - your ex - does not have an estate plan, or if they do and they have not carved out any special needs legal planning, their assets will flow outright to your child. If assets going to your child in their name exceeding $2000.00, your careful planning and protective measures will not be enough and your child will lose critical government benefits.
From coordinating care to coordinating legal plans, there are numerous legal issues that can arise when co-parenting, so be sure you have the legal support you need by consulting with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, and we can help you identify how to get the best support possible. And given the fact that your family structure has changed, you’ll definitely want to update your estate plan as well. Contact us today for assistance with any of these matters.
This article is a service of Laura Croft, Esq. Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That's why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.
I have five children, two of my children have special needs and one is my step-daughter. On a deep level, I understand how every family has special gifts, dreams, fears and goals and I am deeply committed to be your trusted advisor who helps you make the very best personal, financial, and legal decisions for your family throughout your lifetime.