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The disabled child: Taking the long-term approach to support

If your child is facing a severe, lifelong disability, that's a factor that should be considered in any child support agreement for several different reasons.

1. Child care may be harder to arrange and more expensive.

Even if you have things arranged so that you can be your child's primary caretaker full-time, you may still need to factor the cost of occasional respite care or a nurse who can watch your child while you go to the grocery store or run other necessary errands. You may eventually need the services of a home health aide to help you bathe or groom your child as he or she gets older and harder to lift without assistance.

Support services like these are often costly and not covered through regular insurance benefits or ordinary community resources.

2. Child support payments should be structured so that they maximize your child's ability to qualify for state or federal disability benefits, particularly programs like Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income.

These types of programs all have financial need tests—if handled the wrong way, child support could prevent your child from qualifying.

Supplemental Security Income or Medicaid may not have been a consideration in the past for your child because of your total household income. However, if your spouse was the primary wage-earner and has now left the household, your child may now be eligible for these types of programs.

Child support can be paid into a type of special needs trust, which has the advantage of not counting against SSI's limits on financial resources. It also allows support payments to be made in a way that keeps them from being considered part of your child's countable income for that program.

3. There may be additional costs that have to be calculated.

Depending on the nature of your child's disability, you may also need to ask the court to consider things like the out-of-pocket costs of psychological counseling, medical equipment that needs resized as the child grows, behavioral therapy, transportation costs and expensive dietary needs.

In addition, California law allows courts to continue a support order for a disabled child throughout life, instead of simply ending it at age 18.

It's wisest to take a long-range view of the financial needs involved in these cases. To learn more about how our firm handles child support issues, please visit our page.

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