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


By Jennifer Moore, Family Law Attorney

I was at a friend’s house recently, and observed her kid-friendly refrigerator. It was cluttered with school papers (with lots of A’s!), reminder slips from dentists and doctors, and pretty watercolors. As a mother of three, her refrigerated reflected her life as a parent–cluttered, messy, and rewarding. Then, I realized that because she was divorced, her family had a whole other calendar in another house! Many parents handle these conflicts with collaboration tools, such as google’s shared calendar. However, there are tech tools that are designed specifically for the needs of families of divorce. Juliana Hoyt reviews them on her blog, Dispute-Ed. I note that Our Family Wizard was created with input by Minnesota attorneys. I do not recommend any particular service, but some form of documented communication and joint calendaring is always a good idea, even if it is a calendar and notebook carried in a backpack.

June 2, 2009

Home for the Holidays?

 Holidays and Children and Divorce

As a parents facing divorce, the biggest question you will face is determining custody and parenting time for your children.  This includes not only the day to day scheduling issues, but also the important days of the year that involve the holidays. 

Holidays must be addressed by every parenting schedule.  It is a question that must be addressed by every family; however, the answer to that question depends on your particular family.  

What a parenting time plan MUST include is a schedule that address where the children will be on the major holidays and vacations during the year.  This includes New Years Eve and Day, Spring Break, Easter, Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Hanukah, and other that may be important to your religion and culture.  

Vacations and Children and Divorce

Additionally, parents may wish to reserve a one-week or two-week period during which they can take a vacation with the children.  Usually this is reserved to spring break, winter break, and summer break time periods so that the children’s school is uninterrupted. 

 Details and Children and Divorce

What I typically see in a parenting plan holiday schedule is that the parents alternate years – in even years, mom has the children for Christmas Eve, and dad has them for Christmas Day; in odd years, they switch.  It is also important to consider which holidays matter most to you.  Is it ok for your children to be with your spouse for Thanksgiving, Easter, and Christmas Day all in the same year?  If not, then you should look at the alternating schedule to make sure it reflects what you want to have happen. 

 Finally, make sure that your schedule specifies whether it covers the Holiday day, or Holiday weekend, and what time periods that covers.  Sometimes Thanksgiving is just one day, sometimes it’s a 4-day weekend.  Sometimes Christmas Eve ends at 10 PM; sometimes “Christmas Day” starts at 10 AM the next day.  It is important to discuss these potential solutions with your spouse at the time you draft your parenting time plan.  It is not safe to assume that you and your spouse will work on the same time frame once things are in place!

 Emily M. Matson, Esq.

Plymouth, MN 55447

Phone:  763-951-7330

The Annual Family Law Institute in Minnesota

Every year at the end of March, the Minnesota State Bar Association’s Family Law Section (  ) puts on the conference of the year for family law attorney:  The Annual Family Law Institute.  As we’re getting ready to attend this year’s conference, I am reminded of the excellent opening day speaker from the 2008 conference:  Constance R. Ahrons, Ph.D. ( ), whose topic “Listening to Children About Divorce” confirmed what many of us in family law have been trying to explain to our clients – children are affected by how you and your spouse relate to each other and your children.


Family and Children after Divorce

Included in her talk was an overview of her article, “Family Ties after Divorce:  Long-Term Implications for Children,”  Family Process ( ), Vol. 46, No. 1, 2007.  Dr. Ahrons’ analysis of the long-term affects of divorce on the well-being of children offers a lesson for all parents now starting the divorce process:


“No single factor contributed more to children’s self-reports of well-being after divorce than the continuing relationship between their parents.  Children whose parents were cooperated reported better relationships with their parents, grandparents, stepparents, and siblings.  Most of all, the children said that they wanted to have relationships with both parents.  What the children wanted was not for their parents to be friends as much as they wanted them to be cordial and not badmouth each other.”


Id., pp. 58-59.


If you are able to maintain a cooperative relationship with your spouse, even if you don’t ever like each other again, your children will have better lives for it. 


Plan Now for Happier Milestones

When clients first come into the office and sit down and tell a story of heart ache and sadness and regret, and worse, I try to get them to think about the future, about when the divorce is done and it’s time to have a new start on life.  I ask them to think about their children – when they graduate high school, or college, or get married, picture being at their wedding and getting along with your former spouse for the sake of your child.  If you alienate your children and put them in the middle during the divorce, and subject them to the fighting that is going on between the two of you, then both parents might not be invited to those events.  If you want to make sure your children are going to have happy milestones that include you, make sure you have a relationship that means it can include your former spouse as well.


I’m Emily M. Matson:


I’m family law and trusts and estates attorney at Moore Family Law:

3350 Annapolis Lane North, Suite C

Plymouth, MN  55447