Minimizing the negative impact of a divorce on special needs kids

Attempting to minimize the impact of a divorce on your children is a goal that many parents have at the beginning of a divorce. We hear horror stories about how divorce can impact our children, and we want to do everything we can to get the divorce taken care of but have it leave as little of an impact on our kids as possible. I think this is a parental instinct that many of us have regarding divorce and any unpleasant scenario. One needs only to think about the coronavirus pandemic in the links that some parents, including myself, would go towards helping our kids live an everyday life despite the turmoil around us. Some of us can do a better job than others in some kids can avoid the negative impacts of a divorce for the most part.

I will start by saying that I think it is a good goal for parents to keep their children’s lives as consistent and stable as possible despite the divorce. There is no doubt in my mind that divorce has negative consequences for most children but that those negative consequences can be alleviated over time and severely diminished by parents working together to coordinate their efforts with their children. These efforts should begin at the beginning of the divorce and should never stop after that. You may think that you are divorcing your spouse, but you are gaining a co-parent.

The term co-parent is one that we hear with a great deal of regularity in our lives as family law attorneys. Co-parenting is a term that maybe did not exist 20 or 30 years ago but is now a term we hear used quite a bit when discussing two parents and separate households raising children together. Ideally, it is with a shared vision and focuses that parents who may not agree on much agree to put aside their differences and raised children together as a team. I can think of no other situation that demands co-parenting more closely than with a special needs child.

Depending on the specific circumstances of your special needs child in their life, you may find that your child is more able to adapt their life to moving in separate households from each parent. For example, suppose your child has an emotional or psychological need where they cannot process emotions and observe changes in people’s readily. In that case, the divorce may not impact your child as much as some of his brothers or sisters. On the other hand, if your child has a unique physical need where they cannot travel or adjust to changes in their surroundings very quickly, the divorce may have significantly impacted this child.

On the whole, I think that special needs children deserve focus and attention during a divorce case. It is easy to lose track of specific circumstances within a divorce and instead focus on one or two different areas that may impact your life. However, keep in mind that by focusing on issues not related to your unique needs, child attention that is diverted from them can cause significant disruptions in their lives. If stability and consistency are essential to you in parenting your child, then this should be the singular focus of your case. Other areas of your case may suffer, but one area that you do not want to see the impact in a negative light is your child’s well-being.

What sort of impact could your special needs child have on your divorce?

If you are parenting a special needs child, you need to be aware that the impact of your particular child on the divorce could be profound. For example, if are special needs child requires regular medical intervention. You and your spouse need to figure out how to provide your child with health insurance and divide up the costs of help coverage that is not taken into consideration by insurance.

Medications that are not covered by insurance, procedures, or exams by doctors that are over and above what coverage does allow for will need to be divided up in some way by you and your spouse. Typically, parents will divide medical costs for the children between them in a pretty even fashion; however, if the prices for your unique needs child are higher than for most children, you all may need to determine a better proportion to split those costs based on your income’s inability to pay.

This discussion bypasses the question of ensuring that your child has health insurance coverage. You are finding the right plan for you and your family has probably been a considerable concern of yours throughout the past few years. As such, you will want to make sure that not only is your health coverage in place and covering the procedures, treatments, and medications that your child needs, but you need to have it laid out in your final decree of divorce how the costs of health insurance are going to be spread out between you and your ex-spouse.

Typically, one parent or the other will bear the cost of providing health insurance for the child. The other parent will be responsible for either paying for the health insurance directly or reimbursing the cost of health insurance to the other parent. Suppose you are the parent who pays child support and also are responsible for providing health insurance through your employer or a privately sought-after plan. In that case, you will need to consider that when negotiating your final decree of divorce.

If neither you nor your ex-spouse can pay for health insurance directly, then it will be necessary for you all to get your child on some government-sponsored plan like Medicaid. The state of Texas will require that whichever parent is paying child support will also pay the State back for the cost associated with covering that child. It is better to have your child on private health insurance, most likely, because those plans tend to cover more treatment and allow for greater flexibility in caring for your particular needs child.

The last thing you want to experience is a disruption in health insurance coverage for your child; this is one of those areas where the negative impact of a divorce can be felt there is some kind of transition between you’re paying for health insurance, and then your child has to get on a plan provided by your ex-spouse. You will want to walk through the Transition with your ex-spouse as well as the health insurance providers to make sure there is no disruption to the treatment that your child receives. I am thinking about a scenario where your child gets some behavioral or occupational therapy. For some reason, that treatment would have to be delayed or postponed because of problems dealing with insurance. It is up to you and your spouse to ensure that no disruptions or minimal disruptions are had despite the circumstances of your divorce.

Custody and possession impact regarding divorce and a special needs child

Regarding being able to spend time with your special needs child after a divorce and make decisions on their behalf, we need to be aware that children are often stuck in between parents when it comes to their not agreeing on how possession is to be divided. It would help if you considered your child’s specific needs in conjunction with their need also to be able to spend time with both parents. Do not let your views on divorce or what should be the case with possession take precedence over what is in your child’s best interest. If your child cannot travel or change residence frequently between you and your ex-spouse, you should consider this when you are negotiating on possession. Not every child will be able to be as flexible as others when it comes to moving about between two houses.

In this regard, you and your spouse must be able to negotiate through this subject rather than put your case before a judge. I say this because a standard possession order will bind a judge in Texas’s custody and visitation norms. Whereas, we typically see parents in family law cases negotiate more flexible and more appropriate Visitation in possession schedules together compared to a judge. After all, nobody knows your family better than you and your spouse do. It would help if you understood that nobody knows your child as you do and that you are better suited than anyone to decide what is or is not in their best interest.

When it comes to determining rights and duties to a child in your divorce, we are talking about the concept of conservatorships. Conservatorships mean that you are responsible for the care and well-being of a child until that child reaches the age of 18 or graduates from high school. However, you may find that conservatorships rights need to be extended for you and your ex-spouse even after your child reaches the typical age of majority. You should speak to your family law attorney about including language in your final decree of divorce to reflect that you all may need to take conservatorships over your child if they are unable to take care of themselves properly after the age of 18.

Otherwise, when I think of conservative shipwrights, I typically think of medical and educational decisions that will need to be made for your child. For most kids, this means the occasional doctor’s visit or surgery and then whether or not to place your child in advanced or remedial classes depending on their specific situations. However, a special needs child may demand that you and your spouse take a more forceful rule in their educational and medical lives.

Parents typically split the rights to make decisions in these areas between themselves in a reasonably even fashion after a divorce. Under normal joint managing conservatorship, both parents will need to confer with one another before decisions can be made regarding education and medical treatment. However, you all may find that either you or your ex-spouse are in a better position to make decisions on behalf of your child based on their proximity to your child and their superior knowledge and what is best for your child’s well-being. It can take many maturities to defer to your ex-spouse when it comes to decision-making for your child, but this may be what it takes for your child to be in the best position possible. I would not punt any rights or duties concerning your child where you need not do this, but I would also speak to your family law attorney about what they recommend for you in your specific circumstances.

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