Changing It Up- Parenting Plans When Your Child Has Special Needs - Family Matters Mediators and Counsellors

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January 16, 2020

I went through my own divorce when my daughters were very little. When my ex and I separated, our two daughters were just 3 years old and 9 months old. They were babies. Back in the day, I did not know anyone who used a mediator. In fact, I barely knew other people who were my age and going through a divorce! I didn’t have a clue on what to do, and subsequently, I gave my lawyer complete control.

My eldest daughter who has numerous mental health issues and other special needs, was not given any atypical considerations when it came to putting together our parenting plan. She had difficulties falling and staying asleep, she did not do well with transitions, and she required numerous medications in order to medically stabilize her. Our parenting plan was hard. It was difficult on me; worse for her, and nowhere in our agreement was even a slight mention of reviewing the plan if things were not working out.

Thank goodness we have come a long way since then as we are aware today that the children’s best interests need to be at the forefront of our decision making. Only here is the problem – there are plenty of common recommendations for what should occur, but these recommendations are based on the needs of the “go with the flow” children, not the kids who have unique differences. What this means is that our courts are still not educated enough as to what sort of accommodations may be best, and the result is that too many children with special needs are dealing with inappropriate recommendations.

It is also no secret that the rate of marriage breakdown when there are special needs children is higher than in the general population. Commonly, former spouses could not agree on their child’s diagnosis and treatment when they were married, and this type of conflict continues when these same two parents are trying to work out their parenting plan. So, what can you do to secure that your parenting plan best meets the interests of your special needs child?

Mediation can be a great option to research as it is a process that encourages parents to design their own solutions. If you choose this route prior to mediating your parenting plan, consider the following:

  • What is your child’s cognitive age? Your child may be 12 years old but he or she may be developmentally delayed and behave more like a 7 year old.
  • How well does your child manage with transitions? For instance, kids with ADHD often have a stressful time with transitions.
  • Does your child require extra supports? Maybe your child cannot bathe himself; or even get dressed on her own, or maybe the other home is just not accessible.
  • Does your child require constant supervision?
  • What are your work schedules? Is one parent more easily able to drive the child to his/her medical appointments?

These are just a few examples that come to mind. It is also a good idea to ask your child’s doctors, therapists, and teachers for their recommendations. They can be wonderful resources and they may be able to offer some valuable insight. Make sure that you also address educational decisions, social activities, and other supports that your child may need in your parenting plan. Lastly; do not forget that no matter what your decisions are today, frequent reviews of your agreement are crucial as your child’s needs will change as they grow. Finally, ensure that you stipulate clearly what you will do if changes need to be made in order to best support your child’s interests.