Having a child or children with special needs can take a toll on a marriage. Besides the usual stress of jobs, children, bills to pay and a house to take care of, you have medical issues and often, it is difficult to find someone who can take care of your child so you can have some alone time. When a divorce happens in a special needs family, you need to consider different things than if your children were “typical.”
- Telling the children. How much you tell your children depends on their disability. A child who is physically disabled, but not mentally, needs to be told as much as your other children. Remind the child that mommy and daddy love him/her as much as ever, but can no longer live together. Assure the child the divorce is not their fault. If your child has a mental disability, you may not want to share too many details. Simply saying mom or dad is not going to live in the same house anymore may be enough. You know your child best and can judge what to tell him/her.
- Child support. Most of the time, child support ends when the child becomes as adult. Since children with special needs may never be able to live on their own, you need to consider asking for support beyond the age of adulthood. Depending on the child’s disability, he/she may be eligible for Medicaid and SSI payments when they become adults, but you cannot depend on that. Make sure to discuss your situation with your attorney and ask if they have any experience with divorces involving children with special needs.
- If you let the court decide the visitation schedule, your child will probably be living with one parent and visiting the other every other weekend and an evening throughout the week. If your child can handle this, fine, but many children with special needs don’t like being away from their comfort zone and may become anxious. If you write your own agreement, you have control over when your child will visit. You know your child best and should write the visitation schedule with this in mind. Remember that the court will have to approve the schedule, but if you and your ex both agree and can show why this is best for your child, the judge should agree.
- Post-divorce. Unlike parents whose children become adults and move away from parents, you will most likely always have your ex in your life. You will be the contact for visitation decisions and will need to discuss medical issues with your ex. You may not want to, but being respectful and friendly to your ex is in the best interest of everyone.
Make sure you talk to your lawyer about your concerns with providing for your children with special needs. You may need extra funds to pay for trained staff to help you care for your child and visitation schedules that suit your child’s needs may need to be modified. Hopefully, you and your spouse can work out an agreement that gives your children everything they need to be healthy and happy.
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