Divorce is hard. Co-parenting is tough. Add in special needs for your child and it is almost impossible to hold it all together for the child. Divorced co-parenting with a special needs child requires frequent communication from both parents. The conflict level and circumstances of the divorce can make co-parenting straightforward or strenuous. The way you choose to co-parent will impact every child differently. Their special needs, individual temperament, and the child’s age are additional factors to be considered. Divorced parents who are co-parenting with a special needs kid is a subject that just isn’t talked about enough. Since we focus on Family Law at McCart & Tesmer we decided to change that.
Special needs is an umbrella term that can refer to physical or cognitive disabilities, autism, ADHD, and so much more. Whatever the case, when it comes to co-parenting your special needs child, it is crucial to consider the nature and gravity of their needs. There is no one-size-fits-all special needs plan, but there are things that all parents with special needs kids need to consider.
- Being Flexible for the Child’s Fluctuating Needs
When a child has special needs, there are extra considerations. Things like medications, emotional irregularities, physical distress or comfort, Individual Education Plans, equipment that can vary in mobility are not always static. These things will fluctuate and change and must always be at the top of your mind. Pro-Tip — Remember that some battles are not worth fighting if your co-parent is not on board with certain needs-related decisions. As they say, “Pick your battles.” Is it about “being right” or the child’s best interests?
- Create a Decision-Making Structure
Medical, emotional, educational, and financial needs will often vary. A go-to decision-making structure can relieve some of the stress involved in the ever-changing day-to-day. We suggest prioritizing the decision based on urgency. Consider where your and your co-parent’s strengths, weaknesses, and expertise lie in order to divide options by category or split everything 50/50. Finding what works best for you and your co-parent will significantly reduce all decision-making stress. For example, Mom handles scheduling doctor’s appointments, and Dad takes on in-home care communication.
- Stick to Routines
No matter the custody agreement or what conflicts may arise: routine is critical. If possible, schedule medical or therapeutic appointments that do not change month to month. Stick to whatever dietary routine has been agreed upon and established. Changing something simple like a bedtime ritual can seriously disturb a special needs child’s sense of stability. Divorce is already a layer of instability for your child’s world, and it’s essential to do everything you can for their comfort. Maintaining consistent routines is a huge part of that.
- Take Stock of Available Resources
Support groups, therapists, caretakers, non-profits, and government supplements to income can all be possible resources. There are groups for sensory integration disorder, autism, ADHD, Down Syndrome, and more in the Tampa area. Programs range from art to equestrian activities. There are non-profits like the American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities(AAIDD) that offer educational workshops and journals. Since the start of the pandemic, many more groups offer virtual components as well. Do some research to find what meets your needs.
- Preparing Them Together for the Future
Disabled adults often face many things non-disabled adults would never have to consider. Disabled adults risk losing needs-based government aid like Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income if they get married. Depending on the state, possessing more than $2,000 in the bank can disqualify a disabled person from receiving government aid. Implementing a Supplemental Special Needs Trust can help. If the child’s independence is not possible, when will conservatorship or guardianship be necessary? To ensure the child’s success growing into an adult, devise a plan with your co-parent to educate your child on their legal protections and available resources before turning eighteen.
- Take Care of Yourself
Just because this is last on the list doesn’t mean it’s not essential. Parents of kids with special needs should still be able to have a life! Caretaking is incredibly stressful, so it is easy to get burned out. When you add divorce and everyday responsibilities, it can be incredibly tough to make time for self-care. Taking care of yourself can model important behaviors like setting and understanding boundaries, self-care, and independence, to name a few.
Parents take extra steps to ensure proper development psychologically, physically, and emotionally for their special needs kids. In previous posts, we’ve written about parenting planning tools, and all of these can be starting points for special needs kids as well. Please contact us at McCart & Tesmer, P.A. for additional guidance and support on parental planning.