Divorce is hard on all participants, particularly the children. But if you are a parent of a disabled child, the ramifications of a divorce can affect them even more.
For the divorcing parents, mitigating any deleterious effects of the divorce on their disabled children should be foremost in their minds. Often, this can require them to think outside of the box to find creative solutions to their custody dilemmas. Below are some suggestions for parents in these circumstances.
Be clear about what your child needs
Kids with disabilities are individuals and cannot be lumped into neat categories. Even children with the same conditions will have different levels of functionality and require different supports to thrive.
If you have a bed-bound child with severe disabilities that require special home modifications and equipment, it may not be financially possible to accommodate them and all that they need in two separate homes. The parents may want to consider the concept of bird’s nest parenting where the parents transition in and out of the family home and the child(ren) remain(s).
Consider the effects on the kids when seeking custody
Children thrive on structure and stability, especially kids on the autism spectrum who find changes to be especially challenging to navigate. You should work with your child to ensure that they are as comfortable as possible with alternating custody arrangements.
Preparation is key to success here. Purchase or draw a calendar with your child that can be used to visually indicate the days the child will be with each parent. Then, reinforce with them any upcoming changes, e.g, “Remember, tomorrow is the day when you go to stay with Daddy for three days.”
Be mindful, too, that some of these changes may wind up just being too stressful to the child, at least initially at this stage of their development. If such is the case, shared physical custody might have to be taken off the table right now.
Loop in the kids’ teachers, doctors and counselors
Your disabled child can only receive maximum benefits from the professionals in their lives if those professionals are fully aware of all the challenges your child is facing. Arrange meetings with them to apprise them of the divorce and custody negotiations so that they can better support your child in all their endeavors.
Work with your family law attorney to find workable solutions
Be open to negotiations that could lead to workable custody agreements. Sometimes, one parent may have to be satisfied with extended visitation privileges if it is just too problematic to share physical custody at the child’s present developmental state.
Remember that these matters can be revisited later if the situation improves or changes significantly. Nothing is written in stone when it comes to custody of disabled children in divorce.