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Child custody: Tips for co-parenting a special needs child

Parents of a special needs child have the same parenting issues as other divorcing couples—and then some. Unique challenges can shatter the most amicable divorce intentions.

Pre-divorce, parents may want to ask their respective attorneys to set up a plan for contingencies that exceed issues on the usual custody arrangement spectrum.

Tip #1: Understand complex issues

There are critical issues in drawing up custody arrangements. It is essential to spend time considering the list of necessary care, services and financial resources involved. Seamlessly continuing these services means drafting realistic child support payments. Parents must understand the effects of divorce on their special needs child's assets, both short-term and in the future.

Tip #2: Put proper financial tools in place

If divorcing parents have not already done so, it is wise to set up a contingency plan for continued financial care. Parents can seek a guardianship or conservatorship. A special needs trust may provide a better solution.

Tip #3: Develop a care plan for co-parenting

One of the most challenging aspects of marital dissolution with a special needs child is deciding how to arrange physical care. Perhaps pre-divorce, one spouse stayed home with the child while the other worked full-time. With shared custody, a rebalance may take place. Divorcing couples must work out how to divide parental time with the child in a way that is fair. Each parent deserves some weekly downtime to prevent burnout.

Tip #4: Prepare for the child's lifetime needs

Many alternate arrangements are possible to assist a special needs child over the course of a lifetime. A therapist who treats special needs families can provide a few targeted sessions and referrals for long-term care options. Treatment can also help parents create effective plans to cope with the transition to post-divorce child-care. A good therapist can suggest support groups for single or divorced parents of special needs children.

Tip #5: Plan on flexibility to maintain a positive experience

Successful co-parenting of a special needs child requires compassion and flexibility. Custody arrangements for special needs children can be fluid over time. Parents can request a court child support modification order if circumstances change.

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