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How to Support Your Special Needs Child Through a Divorce

Whether a child is severely disabled or has moderate learning disabilities such as dyslexia, dysgraphia or auditory processing issues, their ability to thrive depends on continuity and stability.  Thus, parents who are going through a divorce with a special needs child should consider how best to support continuity and stability to foster the best possible outcome for their child with special needs.

Positive and Supportive Co-parenting

Positive and supportive co-parenting is critical to achieving the best outcome for children of divorce. This is especially true if your child has special needs.  Children with disabilities suffer from a host of issues such as anxiety, lack of self-esteem, inability to focus, depression and bullying.  Positive and supportive co-parenting means that both parents are involved in planning and participating in activities, educational support networks and medical/therapeutic treatments for the special needs child.  Imagine a situation where both parents employ the same tools and techniques in both households so that the special needs child has consistency while living in two homes.  This requires significant communication and trust between the parents.

Co-parenting Therapy

If you are in a situation where co-parenting feels impossible, see if you can meet with a co-parenting counselor who specializes in high conflict divorce and special needs children.  A qualified professional therapist should be able to assist you in achieving more parity between households.

When Co-parenting Fails, a Parenting Coordinator is Helpful

If parents agree to use a parenting coordinator, the parenting coordinator will help the parents navigate important day-to-day decisions that need to be made to best serve a child of divorced parents. This is particularly helpful when a child has special needs as there is often ongoing adjustments to educational and medical programs and structures.  A parenting coordinator generally will help facilitate and agreement between the parents and, if no agreement is reached, the parenting coordinator can make recommendations or orders regarding the disputed issues.  This process allows the parties to resolve smaller, ongoing issues in a more expeditious manner than going through the court process.

Determining a Custody Schedule that is Best for Your Special Needs Child

It is likely that a child with special needs will benefit from having consistency and continuity between households.  Often, this means compromise between the parents regarding scheduling of custodial time.  There are many ways to maximize the time that a child spends with each parent without creating disruption for the child’s academic, social and emotional health.  Working with both a mental health professional and an attorney to help craft a schedule that would work best for a special needs child is critical to the long-term emotional, social and academic health of the child.