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. The court will rely on the best interests of the child standard in creating any visitation schedule.

A Collaborative Strategy

Before filing a contested case, parents should attempt a collaborative approach. That means including caretakers, treating providers, therapists, and other experts. 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, presenting your case appropriately to the court is essential. Include testimony from experts and make it clear to the court what you want. If you are unable to make decisions together as co-parents, you may need to request final decision making authority.

Take Action Quickly

If you are facing separation and divorce, you should take steps to act quickly. Addressing concerns at the beginning means taking time to figure out what works for your family.

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.

The top-rated attorneys at Melone Hatley, P.C. are here to help! Melone Hatley, P.C. is a family and estate firm serving Virginia Beach, Richmond, and Northern Virginia. Our philosophy is to provide all of our clients with the highest quality legal representation, innovative legal solutions, and unsurpassed dedication to customer service.  Through our high standards, we strive to be a trusted resource to our clients.

We know from experience that a successful attorney-client relationship depends on our ability to understand your needs and objectives.  For more information about child custody, contact our Client Services Coordinator at 1-800-479-8124 or book your appointment online.


Rebecca Melone

Written By 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 e…
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