Any divorce involving children is exceedingly challenging and emotionally charged, but when a divorce involves disabled or special needs children, the stakes become much higher. The term the “best interests of the child” – one which is used in Illinois – becomes all the more paramount. As such, the approach to a divorce proceeding requires a more nuanced and open-minded touch because the needs of a disabled child will change the calculus and focus of the judge. There are four critical issues that must be addressed with when a divorce involves children with disabilities.
Critical Issues to Consider
The first issue that must be addressed involves visitation agreements and the transition between homes. Typically, in situations involving joint custody, parents alternate weekends or have visits scattered throughout the week. In the case of children with disabilities this may not be the appropriate approach depending on their physical and mental limitations. Changes to a daily routine can be exceedingly problematic for children with mental disabilities because it can be very disruptive and stressful. For example, even something as minute as a different lunch time or babysitter can be very disruptive to a child with autism or similar conditions.
In cases involving children with physical handicaps, there are the obvious physical challenges of moving them between houses, pickups/drop-offs, or making sure both homes are adequately equipped to handle the child’s needs. With these concerns in mind, it is extremely important for both parties to reach a long-term accord and schedule that is in the best interests of the child because caring for a special needs child is a life-long reality.
The next critical issue involves health and medical care for the child. Many disabled children require special facilities, therapy, and treatment. It is important that either both households and/or the primary household has access to and the ability to pay for all of the necessary care the child might need. This can range from physical therapy, a service dog, specialized care, or an assistant.
The third and fourth issues that should be addressed in the divorce agreement center around the child’s educational needs and social/recreational needs. Children with disabilities should have access to the same educational and recreational opportunities afforded to other children. Finding the right school and social programs for your disabled child is a challenge, and one that must be tackled by both parents.
Federal law provides for individualized services for students in public schools and accommodations in the classroom, and emphasizes inclusion of students with disabilities to the extent possible with non-disabled peers. It is important when choosing a school or other programs that you find out their track record in supporting or accommodating children with special needs.
Speak to an Attorney
The above are complex decisions that involve the well-being of your disabled child. It is important that your divorce agreement reflects these needs and clearly establishes the decision making process (whether it falls on one party or both). An experienced family law and divorce attorney can help you reach a clear agreement that is carefully drafted to ensure the child’s best interests are protected.
Pre- and post-divorce decision making is complicated when children, particularly children with disabilities, are involved. You will need a skilled DuPage County divorce lawyer who can represent your interests while moving the process along as quickly as possible. Please contact our experienced lawyers today to discuss your case.