Navigating Divorce With A Disabled Child

Divorce is almost never an easy process. Even if you and your spouse separate amicably, your entire life still will be uprooted and rearranged: finances must be untangled, legal documentation filled out, and all of your possessions must be discussed to decide who gets what. When children are involved, an already difficult situation becomes exponentially worse; when you have a special needs child, it can feel nearly impossible to handle.

Making Sure Your Child Is Taken Care Of

Child support is a major concern for divorced parents, and this goes tenfold when your child requires extra care. Instead of considering their lives until they reach maturity at 18 or 21, many special needs children need medical treatment, around-the-clock supervision, or additional support for decades; as a result, you must take into account every possible expense to ensure you and your ex-spouse are contributing equally. The following list may help bring some things to light you hadn’t considered.

  • Medical care, services, and equipment
  • Non-prescription treatments and vitamins
  • Paid respite care
  • Guardianship

The transition to adulthood can bring issues of its own, and may be hard to think about in the flurry of legal changes if your child is still quite young. The very nature of disabilities makes estimating future costs extremely difficult, but your divorce lawyer will be able to help you through the process. The easiest way to make it through in one piece is to put whatever arguments and issues exist between you and your spouse aside so the sole focus will be on the wellbeing of your child.

Caring And Custody

In most cases, deciding which parent gets custody of the children is relatively straightforward: finances, personal responsibility, and even the relationship between parent and child is considered. In fact, children at or above the age of 12 are legally allowed to speak privately to the judge regarding their living situation preferences. When your child suffers from a disability, the process becomes more complicated.

Custody of a special needs child comes down to their disability, which can generally be categorized into medical, mental, or emotional; whichever parent’s home is most suited to handle it is usually the one chosen to be the custodial parent. For example, if your child has a physical impairment, the court may focus on whether the parents’ homes are easily accessible and safe. Conversely, if your child has emotional or mental health issues, the focus may be on minimizing the disruption to the child’s life. Unfortunately, some disabilities are compounded. If your child has autism and suffers from a detectable level of hearing loss (which affects about two to three of every 1,000 children in the U.S.), you’ve got much more to consider.

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that as hard as the divorce is on you and your ex-spouse, it is considerably harder for your child. Change is frightening when you don’t or can’t understand what’s going on; do your best to keep the needs of your child at the forefront of your mind.

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