Marjorie JamesDivorce is becoming more and more common, but there is one group that experiences it more than others. Couples with special needs family members, either children or parents who cannot take care of themselves, divorce at a much higher rate than the general public. According to the latest available data, the rate of divorce may exceed 80% for these special needs families.

One of the “financials” associated with Collaborative law is John James, a financial planner who has dedicated a part of his practice to working with special needs families ( Not all his work is with divorcing couples, but with a percentage that high, it is inevitable that he gets involved with other Collaborative team members in the restructuring of special families necessitated by divorce.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I must tell you that this “financial” is my husband. We, as a family, have personal experiences with special needs family members and realize how it impacted us, so this is a passion near and dear to our hearts. I interviewed him to see how Collaborative law can be especially helpful to couples and their special needs family members.

One of the questions he asks clients and people attending workshops is, “What keeps you up at night?” The answers are pretty consistent; the overwhelming concern is the care of the older parent or the child with special needs. The deep desire of caregivers is to live one day longer than the special family member. They also want to ensure that the same kind of loving care they give will continue if they do not outlive their special one.

Traditional divorce settlements, where the financial responsibilities are over at 18 or after college, do not work for special needs family members. In the case of some diagnoses such as severe autism or cerebral palsy, care will continue as long as the child is alive. These days, individuals with special needs are living longer than ever before, so it is even more important to make financial arrangements in the settlement that take long-term care into account.

A special needs trust is vital to successful financial arrangements. An attorney must be aware of the legal requirements so that the trust is drafted carefully and accurately. The goal is to ensure that all needs, and wants, are taken care of. John, the financial in these situations, will advise and provide necessary information, as well as follow up to make sure all needed documents are in place.

Parents with special needs family members who are going through a divorce need the special consideration and process that Collaborative law teams can provide. The key is to have people on the team who understand the unique challenges and are able to come up with special solutions to special needs.

Copyright 2013. Marjorie E. James. All rights reserved.