Divorce, Special Needs, and Handicaps

March 3, 2011

My first marriage ended in divorce soon after we adopted our second special needs child — our son, whom we love as much as our daughter, also handicapped.

When you or a member of your family are handicapped everything gets harder and, to coin a phrase, “the harder it is for ‘normal’ people, the hard harder hardest it is for you.” You have to be you and your children’s best advocate no matter what the legal situation you and your lawyer are working on.

I am an office manager at a law firm, not an attorney, so I can’t deal in depth with the legal issues. I can say, however, that you can expect to be required to work with a legally appointed guardian for the child, that your child’s welfare — as well as your own — will be and should be of special interest to you, your lawyer, and the court; by the very cause and nature of special needs.

In my case, my soon to be ex spouse agreed that no matter what happened we would be partners for our children’s welfare. It was still emotionally draining. The divorce hit the children especially hard and for at least five years my son asked me, at every meeting, when his mom and I would get married again. My daughter was so hurt and angry she changed her family name back to her birth mother’s.

A few simple thoughts my Ex and I have discovered and worked on:

1. You CANNOT use the children as weapons against your former spouse or as trash cans in which to dump all of the bad news about your ex. It will ruin them. Be honest, yes, but remember their natural and healthy inclination is to continue to love both you and your ex. Don’t spoil this special love and understanding.

2. You MUST keep or establish trust between the adults in this situation and not seek emotional revenge or any kind of revenge or retribution. You are still a family and your kids need a sane and reasonably happy father and mother.

3. You HAVE to be flexible (trust –but verify — is the basis for this) in alimony, child visitation, and child support. Special needs people are in my experience, more emotionally and physically changeable than us ‘normal people’ and you have to adapt to and anticipate what comes next — new meds, new doctors, new social services etc. — and new providers and side effects to deal with. Then there’s the reality of layoffs, shorter hourse, the house that won’t sell, the job offer 1500 miles away… And,of course, the possibility of a new partner entering your life.

4. USE the situation for some soul searching for yourself and to work out a life plan for your children.

5. EXPECT that your spouse and their attorney will probably have significant differences about parenting, special needs — including denying that they exist, and about the treatment for same – or the denial of it. I’m not a pollyanna but it is possible to take responsibility for what is yours, work things out, or at least minimize the damage.

6. YOU SHOULD KNOW that life, and divorce, and the hurt and harm the hadicapped are all subject to — know that all this is unfair. Learn how to deal with it.

7. You MUST take some unselfish amount of time off just for yourself. You deserve it.

8. BE HONEST with the children about the situation. None of this “daddy is sleeping on the couch because his back hurts,” or “Mommy cries all the time because she has a headache,” or “Your father is on a trip.” No. Tell the truth but don’t overdo it– as, for instance, you would do when a young child asks where babies come from.

9. BE STRONG. This means knowing when to tough it out and when and where to scream and cry.

10. And, oh yeah, KEEP A SENSE OF HUMOR. That’s an order! There’s always somebody worse off than yourself who is working through this and who is learning how to. Learn how to.

11. Finally BUILD A NETWORK of friends, providers, teachers, and family to help you through this. It helps if they can accept not only the scream and cry part but also your joy at the advances you will see and find in your special needs loved ones.

I hope this helps.

Tom Moore
Office Manager
Moore Family Law

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