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.
Moore Family Law
August 25, 2009
Your Divorce and Your Handicapped Child
When a child or adolescent needs special help managing behavior and / or coping with the symptoms of mental health disorders, families usually have to maneuver painstakingly through a maze of county, state, and federal regulations, agencies, and the individuals who represent them; in order to learn how to best advocate for their handicapped or special needs child. Combine these with a divorce, child custody battle; or with a death in the family and a probate court case; and the difficulty of everything, especially for your child, is multiplied.
Divorce Law and Disability Law
If you are the parent of a handicapped child and are undergoing divorce you will have to learn about not only family law but also the fundamental principles and procedures involved in disability law, special education, civil rights legislation including human rights legislation, IDEA legislation, The Minnesota Children’s Mental Health Act, county services, and quite possibly juvenile justice proceedings and other laws.
You will need to understand the structure of the courts and the various bodies involved in your child’s well being. You’ll need to decide the best way to proceed when you and / or your child are called before an administrator, when you have to fill out what can seem an endless sea of paper forms, and you’ll need to decide what to do when you must appear in court. The more the courts are involved, the more likely it is you will need to retain a family law attorney or a disability lawyer.
You will have to understand the differences between these laws and be able to decide what is most appropriate to used for meeting your child’s needs.
Appeals Court and Administrative Appeals
You may not get what you need for your child at the outset. You may need to learn the procedures and forms and contacts needed to file an appeal or a complaint regarding an administrative decision or court ruling. While in many cases, especially regarding your disagreement with a rule or an administrative decision, you may not need an attorney; you may be served best by at least hiring a knowledgeable lawyer to review the paperwork involved in caring for your child. This costs less than retaining a lawyer to become your advocate, and if possible it will provide you some basic legal advice.
You Will Learn to be Your Child’s Most Powerful Advocate
Finally, you will have to become expert in advocating for your special needs child; and learn also how to avoid and resolve disputes regarding your children.
It sounds like a lot and it is. We don’t know of any attorney or advocate who can do all this for you, even when you can afford to hire such an expert. Unfortunately, in extreme cases you may need to retain one attorney for your divorce, and another for your handicapped child.
Advocating for your child in Minnesota
There are several organizations that can help.
The Minnesota Association for Children’s Mental Health is a statewide education and advocacy organization and a primary resource for children’s mental health. MACMH produces more than nine children’s mental health publications and organizes the annual Child and Adolescent Mental Health Conference in Duluth, MN.
MACMH can be reached at The Minnesota Association for Children’s Mental Health
Another resource for parents of handicapped or special needs children is The Arc of Minnesota. The Arc of Minnesota is a private, non-profit, statewide voluntary organization. The mission of The Arc of Minnesota is to support and advocate for people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities and their families as they choose how they live, learn, work and play. The Arc of Minnesota fight for persons with developmental disabilities so they can reach for a brighter, more inclusive future.
The ARC of Minnesota can be reached at The ARC of Minnesota
Thanks to the Minnesota Association of Children’s Mental Health for supplying the information used in this blog.
Moore Family Law, P.A.