Collaborative Practice Marin
Divorce and Children with Special Needs

Divorce or separation between parents with children that have exceptional needs, special needs or learning differences often have heightened layers of complexity and strain.

What can you do in this situation? Often it is the case that one parent has had a more active role in the child’s world. For instance, one may have attended Individual Education Plan (“IEP”) meetings with professionals at the school and managed the child's doctor's appointments. Another parent may be in greater tune with the child’s special diet. Whatever the situation may be, disputes often arise when the parents decide to separate and are discussing how best to share time with the child.

Often one or both parents become resentful because one was able to spend more time involved with children, while the other was the breadwinner or working toward a degree. Perhaps unfairly the court system may favor the more involved parent. Each situation is as unique as every child’s unique needs.

It is extremely distressing for both parents when one parent advocates solutions with the multiplicity of issues that arise and the other parent has a significant lack of parental involvement. Lack of trust between the parents coupled with lack of knowledge is a recipe for disaster when discussing a post-separation parenting plan. A combination of resentment, mistrust and disrespect can cost tens of thousands to get sorted out in the court system, and both parents will be unhappy. More importantly harm can be done to the children if there are major conflicts in parenting with respect to diet, discipline and boundaries, to name just a few of the many parenting issues post divorce.

Here are ways that you can get on the same page with strategies, plans and solutions for your children:

1. Educate, Educate, Educate.

Education cannot be stressed enough. Consulting with a doctor with a degree in special education is a great start. Taking the time to attend school meetings, or assessments becomes critical. These meetings can be set for early mornings before school starts, which may have less of an impact on work requirements. Be sure that the school has all current contact information for both parents.

There are low and no-cost resources in most areas that may hold seminars, IEP trainings, organizational help, and information to learn about providing for children’s special needs. A low or no-cost resource in Marin County is http://www.matrixparents.org/.

Learn about the Special Education Local Plan Area (“SELPA) offices within your child’s school district. You may make informational appointments with those offices or simply call and speak with them on the phone. If you need to advocate for services for your child, it is best for your child if you and your spouse can be on the same page.

Books are typically available to check out for a small fee. In addition, the technology industry has made it extremely easy to get information and books on line. The library is also an excellent source of information. Additionally scholarly articles and books may be available through Google Scholar, Overdrive, or Amazon. Many books are downloadable to your technology devices. Some books at no or extremely low cost can be downloaded to your computer or devices.

2. Your ego is not your friend.

Ending the parental conflict is the single most important thing you and your spouse can do for your children. Learn to step back, take a breath, assume good will, and try to see past your own judgments to your co-parent’s intentions. Seek to understand over being understood

3. Consider conflict resolution alternatives to court intervention.

Try to focus on the positive and on the future in discussions. Discuss facts, not judgments. Problem solve for going forward, let go of the past. It may take a little time to learn to communicate constructively, but the rewards are worth so much more for your child, your sanity and your pocketbook, and your child will be the beneficiary of your efforts.

Renee Marcelle is a San Rafael based collaborative law professional, mediator, and if all else fails a litigator.

This in no way is to be construed as legal advice, if you need legal advice, please contact a family law lawyer.

photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.


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About Collaborative Practice Marin

CPM is a community of legal, mental health and financial professionals working together to create client-centered processes for resolving conflict.  We are located in Marin County, California. 

Why Collaborative Divorce?

“Divorce is never easy but the collaborative process made mine bearable.  I had more control and therefore less stress and anxiety because I had an active role.”

~JF

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