Child custody is often one of the most hotly contested issues in a divorce. Both parents usually have preferences about the outcome, as well as opinions about what will be best for the children. Kids do have different needs during a divorce, such as the need for reassurance and a sense of stability even as their living situation changes.
Those needs can be more complex and pressing for children with special needs. The average couple will create a parenting plan or custody agreement that sets rules in place for the near future or perhaps creates a framework that could last until the child reaches adulthood.
When at least one child in a family has special needs, that may require a different approach to a parenting plan. Spouses working toward divorce may have to discuss custody and visitation for the rest of their child's life.
Do you believe your special needs child will live independently?
One of the most important questions for divorcing couples with a special needs child to consider is whether or not their child will have the ability to live without support as an adult. Many children with special needs, including those with autism or other conditions, may eventually have enough education and social skills to live independently.
They could maintain their own household, pay rent on an apartment and work a job. Others simply cannot handle that level of Independence. They may require ongoing guidance or care throughout their adult lives. If your child falls into the latter category, you and your spouse should discuss in-depth your plans and hopes for your child when creating your parenting plan.
For example, perhaps you both agree that the best option is to transition your child into a group home after a certain age. It may also be possible that you want to work with your child and seek special assistance to help them achieve greater levels of independence. Whichever approach you take, it will be easier for everyone involved if both parents agree about how to handle the needs of the child after the divorce.
Making sure you prioritize stability is critical for special needs kids
Regardless of how independent you hope your child will become, you should create a parenting plan based on his or her current situation. In other words, you may wish to create a general outline of your future expectations, while focusing most of your efforts on setting down rules and standards for both the special needs child and the parents during and after the divorce.
Life after divorce will be much easier for your child to adjust to if you both agree on things such as transportation to school, play dates and curfew. Working together as parents can help you minimize the stress that your divorce will put on your special needs kid. As they grow older, you can revisit your parenting plan and expand or adjust it to include developing and new concerns, issues or abilities in your child.
If your child's prognosis doesn't include independent living, you may want to address long-term care in your parenting plan. Perhaps both parents will agree to shared custody for as long as the child needs it. In other cases, when parents do not agree about whether the child should remain in the home or move to a care facility, the parent who wishes to keep the child at home may assume full custody after a certain age. Each family is unique, so it's important to explore the needs of your child and how best to address them in your parenting plan.