By Hayley Botha
A shift in the family dynamic by way of a separation or divorce is a tense emotional period for any child to go through, but it can be especially hard for a child with special needs. Managing the care of a child with special needs is often a full-time job and co-parenting a child with special needs may not be easy, but it is important to put your best foot forward to make it work for the sake of your child’s well-being.
When there is a child with special needs involved in a divorce, issues of child custody, visitation, and support and property division are significantly more complex to negotiate. As part of your divorce, make sure you consider exactly what your child’s special needs are and have your attorney walk you through a “day in the life” of caring for your child.
A good parenting plan will spell out essential information and instruction and would be beneficial to tailor your agreement for the long-term since caring for your child may extend well beyond the age of the majority. A good starting point is to explore how much you and your spouse agree concerning your child’s disabilities and abilities. The effect on the custodial parent’s income should be considered when establishing spousal maintenance and child support. Use appropriate special needs trusts, in coordination with public benefits and long-term care insurance.
In the case where co-parents are caring for a child with special needs, a parenting schedule must be sensitive to their child’s care routine. It may take longer for a child with developmental issues or other special needs to adapt to a change in their routine brought about by a parenting schedule. If parents decide to share physical custody, they each may have to adjust their routines to accommodate the needs of their child. In this situation, do your best to be flexible and support each other as you start the transition. Make sure that both homes are equipped, as necessary. Stick to the new routine as much as possible to help your child
become accustomed to it and try your best to be flexible as needed. This transition may be incredibly stressful on your child and be prepared with coping mechanisms to help them get through difficult moments.
The support from a team of positive care providers will play a significant role in getting your family through this time of transition. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, and other family members may play a significant role in providing care. On top of that, outside professionals including doctors, nurses, teachers, tutors, counselors, and others may provide a big hand in caring for a child with special needs. For co-parents, do not hesitate to call upon these individuals when their assistance is required.
Lastly, do not forget to practice self-care. To give your child the best care you possibly can, you must also remember to take care of yourself, too. Reach out for help from your close friends and family. Give yourself a break here and there to do something you enjoy or spending time with friends. You may even want to seek support from a professional such as a coach or therapist who can help you maintain your emotional health and well-being.
Remember to keep in mind support obligations and parenting plans in the divorce settlement are to provide for more quality of life for the child.