If you’re filing for divorce and have a child with special needs, then it’s normal to be concerned about their future. Not only do they have unique medical and financial requirements, but they may also need to be supported after they become an adult.

In New York, parents are typically required to support their children until the age of 21 unless a child marries, joins the military, or otherwise becomes self-supporting. But when a child has special needs, the courts may order the support to be continued even after they become an adult. There may be potential complications, however.

Special needs children and SSI

When determining whether to award needs-based benefits to a disabled individual, the government takes their income into account. Once your child legally becomes an adult, the child support you received on their behalf will be counted as unearned income and reduce their Supplemental Security Income payments by up to one-third. If the support that your former spouse pays exceeds the SSI maximum, then your child will lose their eligibility for SSI and possibly even Medicaid. The latter outcome is especially detrimental because they will be denied access to necessary services.

So what can you do to ensure that your special needs child gets the necessary financial support from their other parent while protecting their right to receive SSI and other benefits?

One way is to structure your divorce settlement agreement so that your former spouse will pay directly for services and benefits like therapy, personal care, and private school tuition instead of giving you the money to cover these costs. Both parents can also arrange to set up a Qualified Special Needs Trust that allows your child to benefit from property held in the trust for their benefit without affecting their eligibility for government benefits.

Modifying the child support agreement

If the child’s situation changes after the court approves the original support agreement, then you can seek a modification provided that one or more of the following conditions apply:

  • There has been a substantial change in circumstances, such as increased medical bills for the child
  • Three years have passed since the order was issued
  • One or both parents have experienced a 15% increase or decrease in income since the order was issued

Child support orders do not automatically change, so you need to be proactive when your child’s needs evolve and more support is needed.

To ensure the best possible outcome for your child, contact a New York family law attorney with experience in negotiating support arrangements for special needs children. They can help you protect your loved one’s right to receive both the parental and government support they need to live happy, healthy lives. Jayson Lutzky is is a Bronx, New York attorney practicing family law. He regularly appears in court for child support cases and offers free in-office initial consultations. To learn more about his services, visit www.MyNewYorkCityLawyer.com or call 718-514-6619.