Special Considerations: Getting a Divorce When You Have a Special Needs Child

Getting divorced when you are the parent of a special needs or medically complex child can seem like a daunting task that could put an unbearable amount of additional stress on an already stressed-out family system.  Many couples with a special needs child make the default decision to stay in an unhappy marriage because the unique issues they face seem impossible to manage on their own or in separate households.

Co-Parenting Complexity

For all parents, one of the scariest parts of a divorce is the co-parenting plan.  When parents of special needs or medically complex children get divorced there are additional issues that may arise in the process. Some of these issues may include:

Because of these and other unique circumstances associated with divorce when there is a special needs child it may be necessary to deviate from the standard parenting plan or child support formulas provided by the courts.  If this is the case, the collaborative divorce process is almost certainly the best route for the whole family. 

Consider a Flexible & Support Divorce Process

Collaborative divorces allow for flexibility and creativity that you are unlikely to find through the courts.  In a collaborative divorce you are not bound by standardized forms or one-size fits all protocols.   If you are raising a special needs child you already know that many people do not understand the additional time, energy and money you put into meeting your child’s needs.  If you have decided to move forward with a divorce you will need a team who understands the many complicated issues involved with ending your marriage while also preserving a safe and consistent environment for your child.

Dena Tranen, LCSW is a trained collaborative law professional, licensed clinical social worker and former member of CFLA. She works as a mental health coach, therapist, and co-parenting specialist. To learn more about your Missouri divorce process options give her a call today.

What Happens When One Parent No Longer Follows the Parenting Plan?

Unless the other parent takes steps to enforce the parenting plan, nothing happens.  But, if the other parent wants to enforce the parenting plan - what options are available? 

A parenting plan is entered as part of a judgment and becomes an order of the court.  Not following the parenting plan is a violation of a court order.  As a result of the violation, the parent seeking compliance could file a verified motion for contempt asking the court to enforce its order.  The noncompliant parent could be subject to sanctions, including attorney’s fees and costs incurred by the parent who was required to file a motion to enforce the order.  This option is available for violations of both financial and custody/visitation provisions of the parenting plan.

If custody or visitation is denied or interfered with by a parent without good cause, then the other parent may file a family access motion with the court.   A family access motion does not require legal counsel in order to prepare it or file it with the court.  Court clerks will provide an explanation for the procedures for filing a family access motion as well as a form to use in filing the motion.  The specifics of the violation of the parenting plan must be stated in the family access motion.  The noncompliant parent will be served with the motion and a summons to appear in court.   There will be a hearing at which the court will determine whether there has been a violation of the order for custody or visitation without good cause.

Pursuant to either a family access motion or motion for contempt, upon a finding by the court that its order for custody or visitation has not been complied with without good cause, the court shall order a remedy, which may include, but is not limited to:  1) compensatory or make-up time; 2) participation by the parent violating the parenting plan in counseling to educate him/her about the importance of providing the child with a continuing and meaningful relationship with both parents; 3) assessment of a fine up to $500 dollars against the noncompliant parent payable to the other parent; 4) requiring the noncompliant parent to post bond or security to ensure future compliance with the court’s access orders; 5) requiring the noncompliant parent to pay the other parent’s attorney’s fees; and 6) ordering the noncompliant parent to pay the cost of counseling to reestablish the parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent.

A person who chooses not to follow the parenting plan is choosing to violate a court order.   Courts do not look favorably on violations of their orders without good cause.   When a parent no longer follows the parenting plan without good cause, there are remedies available to the other parent, but the parent seeking compliance must take steps to get them.

Penny Robinson is a collaboratively trained St. Louis Family Law Attorney. If you have questions about the collaborative process or changes to a parenting plan, then give her a call. Penny can be reached at (314) 862-4444 or visit her website at http://zermanmogerman.com

Collaborative Divorce Process: 6 Insights From a Collaborative Divorce Coach

Divorce is on your horizon and having experienced professionals in your corner will make the collaborative divorce process less time consuming and arduous.

If you are seeing a therapist, hopefully you are, your therapist should be one of those helpers getting you through the emotional obstacle course, as well as providing you logistical information.

Even after you decide on the Collaborative Approach to divorce, the idea of sitting in the same room with your soon to be ex is an unnerving thought.

Many clients find comfort in knowing exactly what that experience is going to be like. What can you expect from the professionals in the room? What are you allowed to say? What will that first session be like?

Everyone knows what litigation is like; get an attorney and start the fight, wait, e-mails, extensions…

Collaborative divorce is going to offer you the opportunity to sit in the same room with your spouse which is going to eliminate the grape vine scenario between your attorneys and yourselves. You will know what is going on every step of the way and all the professionals in the room will have the same goals as you which is to come to a timely agreement you are comfortable with.

There's room for your feelings and genuine thoughts in the collaborative divorce process in a way that isn't readily available to you in traditional divorce.

Many counseling clients ask, “Will I be able to say how angry I am or that he/she doesn’t seem to care about my wellbeing at all after 12 years of marriage?” The answer is, yes! These feelings and others are what drive the process or hinder it.  The collaborative divorce process is definitely the place to get it out.

You may be willing to enter into this process, but you are not excited about standing in the elevator with your spouse.

That is quite fine. Details like this are worked out at the very beginning of collaborative divorce process. The professionals guiding you will make sure that you understand what to expect of them, as well as jointly create expectations for how you will interact with each other.

It will get better.

So much support is offered with this style of divorce that you will heal much faster than you’d expect. As you have consistent team meetings it will become easier to meet with, and interact with, your soon to be ex.  All of this lays the groundwork for effective emotional healing and co-parenting if you have children.

Collaborative divorce supports a calmer, better planned transition than others.  To learn about your Missouri divorce process options contact one of our experienced St. Louis Collaborative Law professionals today.

About the Author : Kristin Craren

Kristin is a former member of CFLA.

Weathering Holidays After Divorce

The first few years weathering the holidays after a separation or divorce can be complicated, not to mention stressful, sad, and lonely. Some of the traditions your family had for years may no longer be possible and you might be left trying to figure out what to do.  It is also a time to be reflective and gracious and empowering in the creation of new traditions for yourself and your family.

But holidays can be happy after divorce. Here are some tips to help you manage.

Honoring the Change

As you approach this milestone in your divorce process, it’s important to take the time to honor the loss.  Whether the holidays were a happy and joyful time of year in your family, or a stressful and difficult to manage, it may be difficult to think about this drastic change in your life.

I can also be helpful to take a realistic view of what the holidays have been.  Many people “sugar-coat” the holidays because the spirit of the season can be so powerful – in reality, perhaps the holidays were not as joyful as you had hoped they would be, especially if you and your former spouse were in conflict.

Holidays Are About The Kids

More than anything holidays are about children and this will be their first holiday season with a new family configuration too.

Finding ways to wrap your head around the holidays is a helpful place to start.  Review your Parenting Plan, make sure it is clear and you understand the plan well.  If your Parenting Plan has not been finalized or if there are areas that seem unclear – review the plan with your former spouse to ensure you each have the same expectation of the time for each day.  Some people recommend that rather than attempting to “split the day” that one parent alternate years planning their celebration on the day before or after.  This way of planning can help families spend a whole day together on the holiday and can cut down on confusion, cause for conflict, and potential interruption to the newly established traditions. It can also better accommodate the possibility of travel.

When you have a clear understanding of the time you will and will not be with the kids it’s time to start planning.

Children, especially children over 4, will be aware of the changes to their family.  With your guidance and support they’ll be able to see this change as a chance to set up new, special time together.  If you can, let them have a few ideas to pick from so they can help share in the shaping of these new traditions.

Model the spirit of the season to your children, be kind and open about this new change.  If they know you are a little sad, that’s okay - it may help them talk about any sadness they are feeling.  Taking control of this step can also model to your children that they too can overcome sadness by creating experiences that shape their world. It is your time to develop the tradition in the direction you want.  Remember traditions aren’t just about eating and gifts – sights, sounds, smells, and activities can all be part of your new plan AND triggering these senses can also create fonder and more concrete memories in the minds of your children!

Holidays Are About You Too

Finally, think about the time you won’t be with the children.  Think about how you want to spend that time – friends, family, volunteer, quiet, movies, books, walks, trips. Taking care of yourself during this time will make this new milestone one of renewal and gratitude.  Something we all need more of.

When the holidays are over and you and your family have returned to a more regular routine take a few minutes to reflect.  What went well or felt special? What do you want to keep for next year?  Are there things you want to tweak or change?  Is it possible to reach out to your former spouse to share your observations, especially your positive ones?

Wishing you and your family happy holidays this year and in the future.

Developing Empathy: The Impact of Negative Comments During Divorce

How do you manage your feelings toward your ex-spouse when you are around your children?

If you have children getting divorced does not end your relationship with your co-parent.  So how do you keep your negative thoughts and beliefs about your co-parent from your child?  It’s tricky and it’s important.

What is Your Message?

Children understand their parents are divorcing because they no longer love each other, if they've seen you fighting through your divorce, they know you may not care about each other any longer either.

When a child internalizes the message that “Even if my parents cannot be together they can still care for and about me together” it can help that child heal from the grief and pain of the divorce more quickly and support the rebuilding of their resiliency.

However, if the message becomes “my parents are not capable of getting along, even when it has to do with something that is important as me” it can send the message that the child is unable to bridge the gap of love between her parents.

Children need to see their parents through the eyes of a child, not through the lens of the divorce.

Comparing Your Child to Your Ex-Spouse

Your child is a part of you: They may have your nose or your chin, your sense of style or your interest in how things work.   Your child is a part of the other parent too:  They may have their enthusiasm, their sense of adventure, or their sense of humor.

In her life your child may have heard similar comparisons as those above and she probably felt pride and a connection to her parent because of it.

If those comparisons turn into insults it can intensify a child's sadness and confusion. If instead of hearing a positive connection to their parent "You have your dad’s sense of humor" it shifts to "You are so slow, just like your dad" a child can translate that into a message from you about your love for her. So when a parent tells a child they are "just like their father" when talking about a disliked habit or characteristic that child's gets a message loud and clear "You don't like dad, and since I'm like dad in this way, you must not like me either".

Maybe your ex-spouse is not a good person – and you want your child to know so you can keep them from experiencing the pain you have felt.  Children need to determine their own beliefs about that parent and they will get there in their own way, in their own time (with the obvious exception of abuse or neglect). Having you as a sounding board, without adding fuel to the fire, is the best way to help that child cope with the possibility of a difficult relationship with the other parent.  Or it may be that your negative experience of your ex will never be your child's experience, that’s okay too.

Helping Your Child Transition Through Divorce

Know that a child can transition more quickly through the grief and pain of a divorce when their parents are able to manage their co-parent relationship with low conflict.  The benefit is that a child will grow up feeling loved and committed to by both parents even when they are not in the same household.

Dealing with an ex-spouse is a life-long journey.  You voyage from marriage to divorce to co-parenting.  Finding a way to make peace, even if it’s only one sided, can reduce the emotional sting these travels can produce.

Discussing Your Children in the Collaborative Process

Clients’ most urgent concern when confronting divorce is often the children. How often will I see them? Who will make decisions about my child’s health or learning issues?

Types of Child Custody

It’s important to understand that under Missouri law there are two types of custody: legal and physical. Legal custody – or decision-making authority - refers to who makes the decisions about the child’s welfare and development. This includes decision-making about such questions as religious education or whether and where a child will attend summer camp. Physical custody – better called parenting time - refers, of course, to where and in which household the children will be physically present at specific times.

Either type of custody can be “sole” to one parent or “joint” (shared) by both parents. If a couple has joint decision-making responsibility, they must first discuss and then agree about all issues relating to the child’s wellbeing before decisions are put in place.

Sole decision-making responsibility to one parent may occur when there is a lot of ill will between the parents and they are unable to have productive discussions about the children.

Joint parenting time usually means that each parent has substantial, but not necessarily 50-50, parenting time with the children.

When a parent is awarded sole parenting time, he or she has all or most of the parenting time with the children. This may be appropriate when one parent is impaired in some way and is unable to manage substantial parenting time.

Each parent’s rights and responsibilities for the children will be set out in a parenting plan that will become part of your divorce judgment. The court system uses a “check-the-box” form parenting plan that will likely not be suited to your family’s specific needs.

Using A Child Specialist Is Better Than Using A Judge

One of the greatest advantages of resolving your divorce collaboratively is that you and your spouse can, with the help and support of collaborative professionals, including a child specialist (a mental health professional with training specific to child development issues), develop a parenting plan that addresses your children’s unique issues now and over time, as the children grow.

Your child specialist will help you make decisions about parenting time and decision-making that meet your children’s needs and are most workable for you and your spouse. A parenting plan developed by a judge who does not know you and your spouse and does not love your children as you do - and one who is likely to use a “form parenting plan” - can result in long-term hostility and repeated litigation between the parents.

You and, most importantly, your children deserve a divorce resolution process that carefully considers the children’s needs. Resolving custody issues with the help and support of the professionals available to you, your spouse and the children in the collaborative process is much more likely to result in a parenting plan that not only meets your family’s unique needs, but also stands the test of time so that the parents will not need to return to court later to modify the plan.

The Importance of Post Divorce Counseling

Post-divorce counseling must sound like an oxymoron. If you were going to go to counseling you would have gone while you were married to save the marriage, right? Post-divorce counseling isn’t about “saving” the relationship, rather, it is about the children (if any) and learning.

Post-Divorce Counseling Helps You and the Children

There are a few things families who go to post-divorce counseling will learn and discuss:

The last bullet is a tall order for many divorced couples because there is typically so much hurt and anger that it is hard to give or receive constructive information.

Think of your relationship with your x-partner post-divorce as a business relationship; parenting is the business and the product is mentally healthy, productive members of society. Years and years of volatile parental alienation and arguments damage kids for years, even into adulthood.Having a conversation with a mental health professional that specializes in divorce is of utmost importance when seeking this kind of service. There are many professionals out there and it is your right as a client to conduct a short interview when pursuing the right professional for you. If you do this you will reduce your chances of getting frustrated or dropping out of therapy by finding a counselor that fits your family quickly and efficiently.

Kristin is a former member of CFLA.