Minimizing the Impact of Divorce on Children with Disabilities

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Some call it a disability, others call it special needs, but all find that these children are family blessings despite the day-to-day challenges their disabilities present – or maybe because of those day-to-day challenges. Children’s disabilities (or special needs) are typically described by one of four categories:

  1. Sensory – such as blindness or being deaf
  2. Physical – such as Multiple Sclerosis, Epilepsy, or Muscular Dystrophy
  3. Developmental – such as Down’s Syndrome, Autism, or Dyslexia
  4. Behavioral/Emotional – diagnosed disorders such as ADD, ADHD, or Oppositional Defiant Disorder

The examples in these categories are by no means exclusive; there are numerous others. But regardless of the disability, each does present certain challenges that the child and the child’s family must overcome on a day-to-day basis, and that’s with two parents in the home. A divorce only adds to the challenges.

First, imagine having to tell your disabled child about the divorce. While it’s normal for any child to experience sadness and fear about what the future will look like without married parents, the fear is exacerbated for a child with a disability. Will they have someone around the clock like they have in the past to get them to and from appointments or school, to help them at home? How will one parent in each of two households manage that alone? And if the disability is developmental or behavioral, the child may have great difficulty managing the very normal emotions that come with divorce.

Second, the “Standard Possession Order” parenting schedule set forth in the Texas Family Code may not be workable for these children. This schedule has the child with one parent (most often the father) on first, third, and fifth weekends during the school year; 30 days in the summer, and alternating annual holidays when the parents live less than 100 miles apart. That’s a lot of work for one parent during the “work-week” and a lot of time for the child to be away from the other parent. And depending on your child’s individuals needs, this could be devastating for them.

If you and your spouse are divorcing, a Collaborative Divorce can help you navigate through these difficult emotional issues for you and your special needs child. With the guidance of Mental Health Professionals and attorneys trained in the Collaborative Divorce process to stay out of court, couples can develop a personalized parenting plan that best meets the needs of their family. The cookie cutter approach offered by the Texas Family Code is just that – a one size fits all. But with a Collaborative Divorce, you get to make decisions that make the most sense for the unique needs of your child. There are also other benefits to you from this process that minimize the stress that can be caused by expensive courtroom litigation, including control of costs, control of scheduling – important for parents managing the daily activities of their special needs child, and better communication between you and your spouse for the future needs of your child.

Rhonda Cleaves is a Credentialed Collaborative Divorce Attorney in Plano, Texas. She represents families throughout the DFW metroplex, including families in Collin, Dallas, Denton, and Tarrant Counties. You can reach her at (972) 403-0333 to learn more about how a Collaborative Divorce can help your family.

Rhonda Cleaves

Rhonda began practicing law in 1995. She left a successful civil trial practice in 2005 to concentrate on family law—specifically, helping families transition to postdivorce life. She now practices exclusively in this area.

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