For the 2014-2015 school year, more than six million school-age children were identified as special needs, according to the National Center for Education Statistics1. This is 13 percent of total school enrollment. Managing your divorce as the father of a special needs child is not easy, but you are not alone in your struggle. Fortunately today our societal view of these children is far more positive and supportive than in previous generations. Virginia Dads, too, can benefit from having the right family law attorney on their side.

Cause, or Effect?

In some cases, the disabilities and challenges faced by Virginia’s special needs children may strain the marriages, leading to divorce. Parents of autistic children, for example, are 10 percent more likely to get divorced than parents of children not on the spectrum, says a study from the Kennedy Kregier Institute.

In other instances, the divorce may aggravate symptoms and behaviors in children with emotional or mental health problems. Whether you and your wife are divorcing because of the issues arising from dealing with a special needs child or you are worried about how to handle the divorce while caring for a special needs child, you are neither alone nor ignored in your struggle.

In any situation, preserving support and care for the exceptional child comes before the parents’ needs. This may sound cold, but it is actually Virginia law, codified in the oft-repeated “best interests of the child” language appearing in Virginia Code §20-108.1, §20-124.2 and §20-124.3, among other places. Once may be an accident of wording; twice may be coincidence, but when legislators write the same phrase into law 41 times, we get the hint: All Virginia’s children, including our special needs kids, come first.

Your divorce should be as uncontested and uneventful as possible. The two adults may be chomping at the bit to split and move on with their lives, but at no point can either of you overlook the needs of your special needs child. Try to work out all details in a property settlement agreement.

Offering Stability, Support, and Security to Your Child

Exceptional children require stability. Many children with intellectual disabilities or behavioral issues thrive on stability and routine, which can be disrupted by divorce. Where is Dad going? Why is Mom crying?

Paying child support provides the stability and structure the child requires. In the property settlement agreement, the higher-paid spouse should provide adequate financial help to the spouse with custody of the child. Both parents must acknowledge the toll in time, labor and money a special needs child requires.

If you, the Dad, can allow the child’s mother to retain the home in which the child has lived her or his whole life, do it. The family home may have had extensive modifications such as ramps, handrails, or accessible bathrooms, for example, all of which would be expensive to replicate. Virginia Code §20-107.1 stipulates “the age, physical or mental condition or special circumstances of any child” as factors affecting financial support.

For example, if you, the Dad, have the higher paying job, you may replace the hours of shared work you spent caring for your child with sufficient funds to allow your ex-wife to hire professionals to help her.

Special Needs Children & Parenting Time

For some special needs children, a typical visitation or shared custody schedule will not work. A week with each parent puts the child and both parents at a disadvantage, since routines are disrupted, new ones established, and then they are disrupted all too soon.

Bird-nesting, in which parents take turns staying in the family home, is especially useful if modifications have been made to ease the child’s home life. Some Virginia parents agree to two-week visitations to ease transitions.

How to Have the Divorce Talk with Your Special Needs Child

You, your wife, and the medical professionals you depend upon know your unique situation best. In many cases, special needs children do better with frequent repetition of information in small doses than with being bombarded by new, emotionally charged information in a single episode.

You and your wife may have to explain and re-explain, using the child’s preferred method of communicating. With each small session, provide plenty of signals that you both still love your child, the child is not the cause of the divorce, and you both will still be in the child’s future.

Considering Your Financial Future

Experts at eParent (Exceptional Parent) advise that both parents advocate for the future of the special needs child in the divorce. Virginia’s codified schedule of child support is not designed for special situations; acknowledge that the custodial parent faces greatly increased expenses. Determine who will make important medical and legal decisions for the child. Legal custody becomes far more important to your entire family when, for example, you must arrange assistance for an adult child unable to care for herself or himself.

When you call The Firm For Men at 757-383-9184, or you contact us online, you can consult with lawyers who have worked with divorcing Virginia parents of exceptional children. No matter the hurdles, we are here to help you overcome them. We zealously protect the rights of Virginia’s men, yes, but we never overlook the needs of our valued Virginia children.


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