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When Parents of a Child With a Disability Divorce: 5 Questions to Consider

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When my husband asked for a divorce in January of 2020, I knew that my life was about to drastically change. However, nobody really warned me just how much the divorce would impact the day-to-day aspects of raising our daughter who lives with a disability.

While everything ultimately worked out for me in the end, I know that some parents may not be so lucky if they don’t prepare themselves up front for all the changes that may take place in their lives. Therefore I compiled a list of five very important considerations for any parent going through a divorce while caring for a child with a disability.

1. Will your living arrangements change?

Every divorce looks different, especially in terms of living arrangements and co-parenting. Sometimes one parent maintains primary custody and remains in the primary residence from the marriage. Other times the marital home is sold and both parents move somewhere new. Moving and navigating new custody arrangements can be challenging and even scary, but it’s all part of the process.

While every separating couple has to balance their child’s needs when selecting housing, parents of a child with a disability may have very specific accommodations to consider. For some parents, this may mean finding a wheelchair-accessible home. For others, this may mean selecting a house that’s not close to a fire station or other loud business.

If you’re lucky enough to remain in your marital residence, that’s great. If not, though, you may need to factor in the requirements for your next home into your divorce settlement — especially if these factors will make the home more expensive or harder to find.

2. Who will pay for medical care?

Dividing up parenting expenses is a part of any divorce. However, most children with disabilities have many more medical expenses to consider than the average child, and sometimes these expenses can be long-term.

In many cases, attorneys can help you make sure that specific line items, like occupational therapy or medical equipment, are included in the permanent parenting plan and final divorce decree. Depending on how you divide these expenses and your income differentials, you may also receive credit for your portion in the child support breakdown, which can help you net more child support or pay less child support each month. While it may not seem like a huge deal at first, I can say from my own personal experience that this is definitely a consideration you’ll want to factor into your settlement.

3. How will custody impact appointments?

Most of the time, children with disabilities have frequent appointments with various specialists that require at least one parent’s attendance. If the same parent has taken a child to all of their appointments since birth, it may make sense for that parent to continue this trend. However, custody arrangements may mess up regularly scheduled appointments, especially in cases where co-parenting schedules dictate frequent child-swapping, like in the case of a 2-2-5-5 schedule. Furthermore, divorces often lead to both parents rejoining the workforce full-time. When this happens, the parent who once took the child to all of their appointments during the day may no longer be available for a 10:00 a.m. speech therapy appointment or similar.

While changes like this can be frustrating, it’s better to work them out before the divorce is finalized if you can. This not only allows you to provide the most accurate information to a judge if you take the divorce settlement to court, but it also gives your child time to work through one transition before you throw additional ones at them. This can be especially helpful to kids who thrive on routine and become easily upset when their routines are disrupted.

4. What information do providers need?

Your divorce may lead to many changes in your child’s contact information and even possibly their insurance coverage. While changing these pieces of info with your child’s providers may not be at the forefront of your mind given everything else you’re dealing with, it’s important to get address and insurance information updated as soon as possible once the divorce is finalized. If not, these changes can sometimes impact coverage and lead to bills you can’t afford to pay.

Furthermore, your child’s providers may need information about the changes to your household, especially if these providers need to contact parents or are specialists that help your child work through changes and emotional situations. The more information your child’s treatment team has upfront, the more they can help your child through the divorce.

5. How will the divorce impact your child emotionally?

Regardless of your child’s disability, chances are the divorce will somehow impact them emotionally. Parents should prepare their child for divorce ahead of time, but also watch for warning signs that their child isn’t handling the transition well. Don’t be afraid to call a therapist for support if needed, even if it’s just for a short time.

Parents have lots on their plate when going through a divorce, and it’s easy for things to slip through the cracks. However, if your child lives with a disability, there are certain parts of their care that can’t afford to be forgotten in the mix. I hope these suggestions can help other parents who find themselves in a similar situation to my own, because I know these considerations made a world of difference for me and my daughter.

Getty image by Andrey Popov.

Originally published: October 1, 2021
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