Complications: Divorce and Special Needs Children

Divorce is a challenging process for everyone. If you have a child with special needs, the choices you make during a divorce can have lifelong repercussions, both for you and for the child. It is not always in the best interest of a child with a disability to receive a large award because child support could cancel the child’s SSI and Medicaid benefits.

But this is not the only problem child support forms for a child with special needs; a complicated process that the Social Security Administration (SSA) uses to evaluate household income can also wreak havoc with SSI and Medicaid benefits.

When a disabled child lives in a household with other people, the SSA takes into account the income of everyone who lives with the disabled child when it calculates eligibility for benefits. This is known as “income deeming.” The SSA applies a formula to define what portion of the household income applies towards eligibility. If the total household income is too high, the disabled child can lose SSI and Medicaid.

In families going through a divorce, income deeming becomes particularly important for two reasons. First, a child with special needs may have siblings who are also receiving child support from an absent parent. In these cases, that additional child support will count as household income and could place the SSI recipient’s benefits in jeopardy. Second, the choice of parent who will have custody of the child (the custodial parent) could throw off an SSI benefit if one parent’s household income is significantly different from the others. In many cases, loss of SSI benefits is not a key factor in choosing a custodial parent. But in other cases, specifically when the child receives significant benefits from SSI and Medicaid, the choice of a custodial parent could make a tremendous difference for that child’s welfare.
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