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You’re listening to the Divorce and Your Money Show, the number one podcast that discusses the complex business of divorce. I’m your host Sean Leeman, MBA and certified divorce financial analyst. You can visit us at divorceandyourmoney.com. And in this episode, we’re discussing disabilities and how it might affect your divorce process. Now, disabilities are near and dear to my heart. I grew up in a house where my own mother was disabled and thankfully not divorced but I have an unusual understanding of some of the ways that chronic illnesses can have an impact in the support that’s required. And in a divorce context, on top of just everything else that’s going on, the disability can’t be ignored. If one spouse is disabled and it can have a big effect on the divorce process in terms of what you should expect.
And I’m going to discuss what you should do. Now, if you’re the disabled spouse, this is an excellent episode to listen to and if your spouse is the one who is disabled, you will also learn a lot of considerations in this particular episode. And the reason this topic is so important and I’m going to give you an anecdote about how important this topic is. Any time someone has a coaching call with me, I have some genera questions I ask to get a feel for what’s going on in the financial picture but I have some specific questions that I ask absolutely everyone on a coaching call. And in the introductory call that is, is one spouse disabled? Do they have any sort of physical or mental illnesses that we need to discuss?
The reason I ask this question every time in every call is because if there is a disability it can completely change the divorce process from a financial perspective and what each party should expect going forward. And this whole process centers around one issue, and this whole episode I should say, the question is this, what support is required for the spouse with a disability after the divorce? And to answer this question we’re going to go through three key topics. And the three key topics are, what level of service is currently provided to the disabled spouse? Will the spouse with the disability require additional services going forward? And the third thing is, can you afford spousal support and how much?
Because we’re trying to sense, when you’re married you might have been the caretaker or the other partner without a disability may have been the caretaker for a long time but if you’re getting divorced there’s a whole new range of considerations that you have to think about. And when it comes to disabilities, disabilities are not necessarily static. They can evolve, they an worsen, they can get better over time but in many cases, as you age, disabilities amplify and you need even more support going forward than you did in the past and without that spouse who was there helping you. Well, you’re going to have to have an alternative. And so let’s jump into some of these questions and some of the things you’re going to have to think about a spouse with a disability or the spouse who is divorcing someone with a disability.
The first one is, what level of service do you currently provide for the disabled spouse? And what I’m getting at is if you were the spouse who doesn’t have a disability, what are do you do for the spouse that’s disabled? Are you the primary caretaker on a daily basis? For instance, do you drive them to doctor’s appointments? Do you help them in and out of the shower or something like that? Do you run errands or pick up a prescription? And conversely, if you’re the one with the disability you should have a clear list of all the tasks that your soon to be ex-spouse provides and helps with because that is a very strong element to your case.
Because after the divorce is over, all of these tasks are going to still need completing when you’re living on your own. And so you need to make a list of activities that your spouse helps with or if you’re the one providing support that you provide today. And you’re also going to need to know what activities could the person with a disability do on their own. There are so many varying degrees of disability. I hate to lump them into one. It’s very frustrating because I see an extraordinary range of disabilities that I work with, actually quite a few, as I record this episode. And so there’s a lot of different things that you should be thinking about but you need to do an honest evaluation of what support is currently provided by the non-disabled spouse.
Issue number two is, will your spouse need additional services? If one spouse is the caregiver, does the spouse whose disabled have other family support or is there live in help or like a part time assistant of some kind or someone who comes a few days a week? And if there isn’t, will there maybe be someone who needs to come in the future because the spouse is gone? And also, how is that support being provided? Is it being covered by insurance or social security? Because social security covers disabilities. And one of the big questions is, what financial programs, be it insurance or disability or long term care, other options, does the disabled spouse qualify for? And that’s a question that requires a lot of research because you have to figure out how much can be provided at a reduced cost and how much you’re going to be paying out of pocket.
That’s a very big financial question that needs to be resolved. That’s a huge financial question. I’ll get into that in a moment and actually I’m just going to talk about it now. Issue number three is, can you afford spousal support and how much? I’m going to look at this from the perspective of the spouse who will be providing or I should say paying spousal support. If you’re the earner in the family because you’re paying spousal support and your spouse is disabled, well, can your spouse work? As I said, disabilities come in a enormous range and so there might be an opportunity for your spouse to work but realistically how much income will that provide if they work at all?
And the thing you’ve got to understand about spousal support in a disability context is almost every state requires a substantially higher spousal support payment when your spouse is disabled. Let me back up for just a second. Spousal support exists so that one spouse doesn’t end up just destitute after the divorce process, right? Because if one spouse maybe raised the kids for 20 or 30 years and doesn’t necessarily have great job prospects, they may as well be a 55 year old entry level employee. But you as a family made $200,000 a year or $500,000 a year, who knows, you can’t expect that spouse to all of a sudden start making $10 an hour and trying to support themselves. The reason spousal support exists is so that spouse can still live a decent lifestyle after the divorce.
And so when you think about a disability context, well, spousal support has to continue so that spouse doesn’t just end up in a facility somewhere where they’re just left to rot and so the support requirements are usually much higher. And you’re going to have to figure out what all those out of pocket medical expenses are and you may be required to pay a substantial portion of them. There might be a cap on it but you might have a very, very high spousal support burden and if your state says, “Well, normally spousal support will end after seven years given that you’ve been married for 20 years.” Well, in a disability context, that spousal support may have no end date so it is something for you to think about. And on top of that, you might have to pay for additional things. You might be the one whose required to pay for health insurance or add it to your existing plan or something like that.
So knowing the future potential spousal support burden is a very critical financial issue that you need to know about. And most states take disabilities very, very seriously and it’s going to add a big layer, a big question mark, to your divorce process. I have some clients where the one subject of discussion is how much future are is going to be required? That’s it. They know whose going to get what assets, they know everything else except they are spending tens of thousands of dollars trying to figure out who is going to be paying, how much additional spousal support? But the issue is, if you think about support in a 20 or 30 year context times a much higher support amount than one might normally be entitled to, well, that support burden could be hundreds of thousands of dollars over 20 years, hundreds of thousands of additional dollars or millions of dollars because of all the additional support and medical expenses that are required.
So when it comes to a disability, you need to really inform yourself and make sure that you’re protected and you’re doing everything you can to understand the financial picture and understand to the best of your ability the additional burden that’s going to be required. Disabilities can be unpredictable in terms of how they evolve over time but you need to start planning those scenarios and doing really detailed financial analysis to understand what that burden might be because it’s going to be much higher than it would be normally. So don’t forget the three key questions. What level of service is currently provided for the disabled spouse? Will your spouse need additional services? And finally, can you afford spousal support and really what is that additional spousal support requirement going to be?