Divorce in the Exceptional Needs Family

Families with individuals with exceptional needs will face additional challenges in navigating separation and divorce. Some challenges the courts are equipped to handle, and others are severely lacking.

In an ordinary custody and visitation case, the court will look to the “status quo” for the family. Most often, one parent has been the primary care provider, managing appointments for the child and tasks of daily living, while the other parent has been the primary breadwinner. Frequently, the court will award primary custody to the primary care provider and set a visitation schedule for the other parent. The visitation schedule will be intended to allow for frequent, regular, contact, and can include overnight as well as daytime  visits.

Traditional Visitation Schedules Can Create Problems

For many families, a traditional schedule of alternate weekends and a midweek evening or overnight visitation can work. For others, these abrupt changes create new problems. The transitions between households, changes in daily routine, and new living arrangements can be overwhelming for a child with exceptional needs. These children can experience setbacks in their level of function and increased anxiety, leading to new problems for parents already facing a difficult time. Without knowing the exact impact a  visitation arrangement will have on a child, it’s difficult for the court to accommodate these concerns when implementing a schedule.

A Collaborative Strategy

Before filing a contested divorce and asking the court to implement a visitation schedule, parents should attempt a collaborative approach. This can mean involving caretakers, treating providers, therapists, or other experts before making any changes. A collaborative strategy can implement small changes over time to ensure that setbacks can be addressed quickly and adjustments can be made. Getting parents on the same page to act for the benefit of the child should be the top priority for all involved.

What if the other parent won’t work with me?

If a collaborative approach won’t work, making sure you present your case appropriately to the court is essential. Involving opinions from experts and caretakers will help the court take all of the relevant factors into consideration before making a custody and visitation determination. In cases where parents cannot agree on custodial matters or treatment for the child, it may be necessary to request final decisionmaking authority where one parent has the final say in any disputes over care for the child.

Take Action Quickly

If your family is facing separation and divorce, you should take steps to act quickly, before the matter escalates. Addressing concerns at the beginning and working toward a collaborative care strategy means taking time to figure out what works for your family. Before initiating a separation, it’s essential to speak with an experienced attorney to determine what your options are.

Contact Melone Hatley Today

When a divorce case concerning a child with special needs is handled properly, you can achieve a good result for the entire family. Our attorneys help make the system work better for you by making sure the needs of your child are given priority.  If you are considering a divorce, contact our firm today for experienced advocacy. Schedule a free initial phone consultation to discuss your options today.

Rebecca Melone

Rebecca Melone established Melone Hatley P.C. in 2014 with the goal of helping families with a range of legal services from estate and family law to traffic tickets and misdemeanor criminal matters. Over the past five years the firm has grown and expanded its services to include a wide range of estate and elder law services. Rebecca has been awarded Super Lawyers Rising Stars for 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 and has been named one of the top family and estate attorneys under 40 in Virginia.
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