It can be a substantial emotional and social responsibility to care for children with disabilities. The time, effort, and energy involved in providing access to special services, private schools, and medical equipment can be hard on a marriage.
Understanding Disagreements and Differences between Spouses
To best support children through divorce, it’s important to know about the kinds of things a couple might disagree on or be misaligned about:
- One parent may believe (or choose to believe) that the impairment or disability does not exist
- The parents may disagree on the nature of the impairment or how serious it is
- They may have opposing views in what they want to provide in terms of additional services and assistance
- Parents may have their own ways of wrestling with their child’s disabilities—parents may have hopes or dreams for their children, but then realize that their child’s situation is more limiting than they had hoped
3 Things to Keep in Mind When Caring for Children with Disabilities Through Divorce
1. Change Can be More Difficult
Remember that children with learning differences or cognitive disabilities tend to have a more difficult time transitioning to new things. While restructuring your family, do what you can to keep their schools and services stable wherever possible.
2. Work with a Mental Health Professional
Working with a therapist or counselor is helpful for any child dealing with the burden of divorce, but it’s especially important for children with disabilities. A mental health professional with special training in the impact of divorce on children can help support them throughout the divorce transition.
3. Prepare Financially
When working out your marriage settlement, you’ll need to ask important questions such as:
- Will children with disabilities be self-supporting, or will we need to provide for them for the rest of their lives?
- To what extent will financial support need to be provided—basic supplemental income or intensive medical care?
- Will there be a primary caregiver for the child or will the child be living with a parent into adulthood?
- Which subsidies does the primary caregiver need to receive (dental, educational, in-home care, or living and housing) and how much are they?
Once you figure out these details, you’ll need to determine how much savings to set aside and how to allocate the support, whether that’s through a special needs trust, life insurance, or some other way.
Why it’s Important to Bring in Experts
You’ll want to work with multiple experts to make sure that a divorce settlement doesn’t negatively affect your child’s essential services. Misallocated funds and misunderstandings about income and asset thresholds can disrupt important caretaking services and could be an impediment to a child’s quality of life.
I once had a client in a very complicated situation—they needed someone to be at arm’s length with their child 24/7, 365 days a year. My client, the wife, was the paid in-home caretaker, but she needed to go to the grocery store, take a walk, or go to appointments from time to time. When she was away from her child, she had others come in and provide care. Those services were subsidized by the state.
There can be a very intricate matrix of services that “don’t play well together”. Sometimes, it’s just not possible to keep everything in place as it was before, and it can be easy to make mistakes. When dealing with these issues, it’s inadvisable to try to do the divorce on your own, and it is important to bring in the experts.
The Collaborative Divorce process brings many talented professionals to the table to help you navigate these choppy waters. In this process, we can call specialists into the negotiations and into the meetings.
A lot of times, the parent who has taken the lead on obtaining the child’s services has a lot of information about these services and about their complexities. The Collaborative process allows all the parties to work together, head in the same direction, and find alignment.
For assistance in the divorce process and finding experts for your unique situation, contact us at Chase, Berenstein and Murray, Counselors at Law.