Broken Wings, Part 2: Divorce Preparations for Your Special Needs Family
by Bonnie Harris Price & Wrae Meredith Sanders
Special needs and divorce; these two words shouldn’t be in the same sentence. Yet more and more families split up because the demands are overwhelming.
Counseling didn’t work. The long vacation meant to help your family reset didn’t work either. It may even seem like your prayers to reconcile went unanswered too.
Then, the inevitable happens. You and your significant other decide to divorce.
Ending your marriage is hard particularly if you have children. Yet when your child has special needs, the task is even more difficult.
The transition to a single parent household won’t be easy. There will be feelings of anger, doubt, fear, frustration, and even betrayal. After all, the two of you took vows to work things out.
But sometimes things don’t work out
It’s important that you know it’s not your fault. And your child’s disability isn’t to blame either. As Iyanla Vanzant says, it’s time to do the work to get your lives on track.
Going through a divorce is like going to war. You don’t want to show up for battle without your protective gear. Don’t confuse this post for a lesson to destroy your soon to be ex, instead, treat this as a blueprint to prepare you for the tough days ahead.
Divorce Action Plan
How much child support should you ask for? What if your child requires special care beyond the age of eighteen? Am I doing the right thing?
These are legitimate questions and at the same time, they don’t even scratch the surface of what’s involved in a special needs divorce case.
Here are some suggestions of what to do when preparing for divorce.
Special Needs Divorce Checklist
- Find a divorce mediator
- Find a special needs attorney or an attorney who specializes in family law
- Bring your child’s records
- Prepare an after divorce budget
- Custody arrangements
- Living arrangements
- After the divorce
In the heat of the moment you might want to run straight to an attorney, but first, try a mediator. A mediator can help you arrange an acceptable divorce agreement. A mediator should be experienced and willing to let an attorney sit in without any hassle.
Your mediator should remain neutral and help keep the peace. Mediators aren’t free but some will offer a free consultation. Check Yelp reviews or get a recommendation from a friend who’s been through a divorce.
Special needs attorney
Next, you want to find a divorce attorney who specializes in this area. Custody, insurance, medical and counseling appointments are areas that must be addressed as soon as possible. Efforts to continue your child’s care takes priority over who gets the house.
The goal is to prevent dumping the burden on one person. Lack of support probably plays a huge role in breakups. To make sure you don’t get overwhelmed after the divorce, address this issue first.
If you haven’t already been doing it, document everything about your child including the relationship with the other parent. Family court is also known as the mother’s court, but fathers have rights too.
You want to record all interactions, including the not so good days. Again, this is not to make the other person look bad, but this is to show the court what the child needs. Documentation is especially helpful in abuse cases.
Your income will definitely change. Income for divorced women is a not so surprising fifty percent. Another ugly statistic shows men tend to get richer after divorce.
Either way, you must prepare your after our divorce budget now. You need to figure out what your expenses will be if you’re going to have any kind of future.
Some things to consider are:
Can you afford to keep the house once the divorce is final?
How much money will I have to make in case I don’t get the child support I need?
What services can my child do without if I need to make ends meet?
Custody and Visitation
Other than the divorce itself, this is the most painful process. What happens to the kids? In Texas and Tennessee, one parent gets custody and the other gets visitation.
If you’re lucky, the two of you can agree to co-parent. Sometimes this is just isn’t case. Worst-case scenario one parent ends up abandoned despite a court order for regular visits.
Understand the court will decide what’s in the best interest of the child. Mothers tend to have more rights than dads, but if you find yourself on the wrong side of the decision be prepared to fight. If you know in your heart you’re the better parent, don’t give up.
Once you have decided who and where please make sure the place is suitable for your child’s needs. New divorcees are plagued with the task of finding somewhere affordable, but it has to be right.
New homes should reasonably accommodate the child. If your child has physical limitations, the other parent should move to a place that is handicap accessible. You should also know if the neighborhood is child-friendly.
Another thing you want to consider is to make sure in your divorce decree that you have permission to move. For example, if there is a doctor or facility two hours away that would be beneficial for your child and you wanted to move closer, your ex could stop you if it isn’t in the paperwork.
You want to put that card on the table because as Dr. Phil said, the person you married is different from the person you divorce. For your child’s sake be prepared.
When It’s Over
The ink is dry. Maybe it was an amicable split. A new chapter for you and your child begins.
Ideally, it would be great if you could seek counseling during this trying time. Most people I know don’t seek counseling until years later. Don’t wait years, get help as soon as it’s over.
Don’t be under the impression that life is going to be grand because the pain is in the past. The pain doesn’t heal until you deal with it. It didn’t work out and you’re left to pick up the pieces.
But Guess What?
You got this. Your child is going to need you more than ever. Despite your child’s emotional and/or physical challenges, they are resilient.
And so are you. Thomas Edison failed over two-thousand times when he tried to invent the light bulb. When asked, he said he didn’t fail, he found over two thousand ways it wouldn’t work.
You will get through this. I have faith in you as a parent.
What’s your story? Are you going through a divorce and have special needs children? Leave a comment below.