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Disability and Divorce Special Considerations

disability and divorceEvery divorce is unique but doubly so when one or more of the parties has a disability. Whether it’s a physical handicap, chronic debilitating disease or unresolved mental health issue, one of the big concerns is making sure both parties have income and health insurance after divorce. Prior to divorce, often one spouse is employed and supporting the person with disabilities. Additionally, many people with disabilities also receive some governmental supplementary income or Medicaid. Experienced Michigan Divorce Attorney Kathryn Wayne-Spindler takes all of that into account when negotiating divorce settlements that involve one or more people with disabilities.

“There are extra steps for a divorcing couple with disability issues,” says Wayne-Spindler. “I consider their current situation and anticipate future needs as well.”
For assistance with a divorce involving one or more parties with a disability, contact the Milford, Michigan law office at 248-676-1000.

Wayne-Spindler has vast knowledge of Michigan divorce, estate-planning and probate laws. The combination allows her to negotiate divorce settlements for clients whether they have a disability or are divorcing someone who does. She protects her clients’ best interests by exploring all the options for asset division; support; guardianship or conservatorship; and separation.

Special Needs Trusts

Special Needs Trusts can be created to make sure that divided assets from a divorce do not increase a person’s net worth above the qualifying threshold for government assistance. “Transferring property or assignable income into a qualifying first-party special needs trust preserves eligibility for SSI and Medicaid,” according to the Michigan Bar Journal article “Divorce and Disability Identifying and Resolving the Unique Issues of a Spouse with Disabilities”by Michele P. Fuller-Urbatsch and Kevin Urbatsch.

special needs trustAdditionally, any alimony should be paid into the Special Needs Trust so that it doesn’t count as earned income when calculating SSI (Supplemental Security Income) eligibility. “The language in the divorce decree is important. Spousal support must be irrevocably assigned to a qualifying first-party special needs trust to prevent it from being treated as unearned income,” according to the Michigan Bar Journal article “Divorce and Disability Identifying and Resolving the Unique Issues of a Spouse with Disabilities

Guardianship and Conservatorship

Depending on the level of disability, the divorcing spouses and their attorneys may want to discuss guardianship or conservatorship. These legal options are designed to make sure that the disabled party continues to have care, representation and an advocate once single. Guardians are responsible for looking out for personal care and welfare. A guardian might help hire a visiting nurse, housekeeper or arrange transportation. The guardian should be aware of the disabled person’s physical needs, medications, prognosis and limitations.

A conservator is responsible for managing accounts and making financial decisions. The conservator can help pay bills, make a budget and monitor spending. The conservator should be on top of taxes and managing the trust’s assets, supplementary income and assistance eligibility. The guardian and conservator can be the same person but often appointing two different people ensures that there are spending checks and balances. Guardians and Conservators may be attorneys or accountants but quite often relatives or family friends are qualified and willing to help.

When considering all the options, some couples may want to look into separation instead of divorce. Separation and divorce are similar except that with separation, the couple remains legally married. Unless one party is looking to get remarried, separation may allow the spouses to legally split while leaving their financial and health insurance arrangements intact.

Kathryn Wayne-Spindler has more than 20 years experience working with divorcing spouses with challenges. She can help negotiate a fair divorce settlement that considers the needs of all members of the family including those with disabilities. She is also careful to anticipate future situations so that clients are not perpetually returning to the courtroom as conditions change. Contact the Milford, Michigan law office of Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates at 248-676-1000. Kathryn and her associates work with clients throughout Southeastern Michigan including Oakland, Wayne, Washtenaw, Livingston and Genesee counties. They handle cases in Milford; Highland; Hartland; White Lake; Commerce; Walled Lake; Waterford; Howell; South Lyon; New Hudson; Linden; Holly; Grand Blanc; Flint; Clarkston and many more local communities.

Written and Posted by Christine Donlon Long, Communications’ Specialist for Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates