Divorce & Special Needs Children

Divorce is never an easy journey, but when special needs children are involved, the stakes are even higher. In these delicate situations, mediation can be a gentle option to guide your family through this process while prioritizing the best interests of your child. A research study in the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities journal looked at the challenges parents of children with developmental disabilities, like autism and Down syndrome, face in their marriages. The researchers found that when parents focus on positive experiences, it can help reduce stress and improve their relationship. Researchers also highlighted the importance of “uplifts”, i.e., the happy moments that balance out everyday stress. And nothing is more stressful than divorce! If you have a child with a disability, and you and your spouse have decided to part ways, choosing mediation over traditional litigation will make the experience way more stress-free for both you and your child. Mediation will help create a supportive environment where everyone can work together to find a common ground, instead of having to battle it out in the court.

Factors to Consider

Child Custody One of the most important subjects in the divorce is custody. Unlike typical children, those with special needs may need more support well into adulthood. That means the custodial parent may have to care for them for a long time, and even after they turn 18, they may not be able to make important decisions on their own. That’s where a legal guardian comes in. A guardian can advocate for your child’s best interests and make decisions on their behalf. It’s an important decision, but one that is necessary for your child’s well-being. If you are unsure of who should be your child’s guardian, a mediator can help. They can guide you and your co-parent through the process, so everyone’s wishes are taken into consideration.

Child Support  When you have a child with special needs, child support payments can become a tricky issue. Unlike typical child support payments that end once the child turns 18, you might be required to continue paying for their care well into their adulthood. This can put a strain on your finances, especially if you are not prepared for it. A mediator can help you understand your options and plan for the future. They can assist in assessing your child’s financial needs, including medical expenses, therapeutic care, and education costs. They can help you negotiate a manageable payment plan, and if applicable, they also facilitate modifying the child support agreement as your child’s needs change over time.

Estate Planning One way to ensure your child is taken care of long after you’re gone is to set up a trust. You can decide how your assets will be managed and how much of the income generated should be spent on your child’s care. You could set up the trust in a way that a portion of the funds are used to cover medical expenses, therapy, or other specialized services. By setting up a trust, you can have peace of mind knowing that your child’s future is secure, and their needs will continue to be met even after you pass away. On that note, it’s also important to consider the role of a successor trustee, the person who will manage the trust after you are gone. You can choose someone you trust to manage the funds and ensure it’s used in the way you intended.

Mediation When You Have a Special Needs Child

When divorce is on the horizon, parents naturally want to shield their kids from the emotional distress that comes with it. One of the biggest disadvantages of conventional divorce proceedings is that they can be psychologically tough for children, who may feel the palpable tension between their parents.  

Mediation Happens in a Private Environment Mediation is a private process that takes place away from the public eye, unlike traditional divorce courts. This means that your children won’t be exposed to the conflicts or be asked to share their feelings in a stressful environment, such as in front of a judge.   In mediation, parents work together to find a solution that’s best for everyone. By cooperating and understanding each other’s needs, they can reach an agreement that works for the whole family. For instance, if one parent has a more flexible work schedule, they might agree to take care of after-school activities.   This improved communication during mediation can also be helpful for future family gatherings, like birthdays or graduations, and make custody exchanges smoother. Mediation offers you an opportunity for collaboration that can be very hard to achieve in a courtroom setting.  

Mediation Offers Greater Control over Decisions When it comes to custody decisions, courts try to do what’s best for the child. In relation to this, they might not fully understand the specific needs of a child with special needs. As parents, you and your spouse have firsthand knowledge of your child’s unique requirements and daily routines.   In mediation, you can create a parenting plan that takes into account what your child needs and focuses on their health and happiness. If your child has therapy sessions, say, three times a week, you and your spouse can agree on a schedule that ensures your child doesn’t miss these important appointments.   Compared to a litigious divorce, you have more control over decisions related to custody, child support, and the division of assets during the mediation process. You can tailor the terms to suit your family situation, such as adjusting child support to cover additional expenses or arranging a flexible visitation schedule that accommodates medical appointments.   For kids with special needs, the upheaval caused by divorce can be particularly destabilizing. These children require consistency and stability in their lives. Without thoughtful planning from both parents, divorce could have significant negative effects on special needs children. Mediation can be an excellent way to lessen the impact of divorce.

Our Divorce Mediators are Ready to Support You in This Journey

At Lerner Conflict Resolution Center, we recognize that divorce is not just about ending a marriage, but also about establishing a foundation for successful co-parenting. This is especially important when raising children with special needs because they are going to require additional care and support.

Through mediation, we help divorcing parents work together to develop a plan that ensures both parties are actively involved in meeting the child’s needs and making important decisions. We also help parents in establishing effective communication strategies to handle any future challenges that may arise. This might include discussing how to address changes in the child’s medical or educational needs, or adjusting the visitation schedules due to unforeseen circumstances.

If you believe mediation could be the right approach for the resolution of your divorce and family law issues, you should give us a call at 657-232-0382 or send a message here to schedule your free and confidential consultation today.

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