Special Needs Children and Parenting Discussions

Special Needs Children and Parenting Discussions by Susan Ingram

{3:06 minutes to read}

When couples with normal-developing kids are separating or divorcing, we can spend quite a bit of time during mediation discussing their parenting arrangements. Among the many subjects that need to be addressed are: what the weekday and weekend parenting schedule will look like; how scheduling for holidays and summer vacations will be handled; and in what ways the scheduling may need to reflect the specific work circumstances of the parents.

When the couple has a special needs child, the whole landscape changes. The discussions about parenting need to be much more detailed so as to flesh out the realities of their situation. This is not an easy feat, even when both parents equally accept the circumstances and are on the same page.

Not infrequently, however, I’ve found that no matter what age the child, one parent has taken on the lion’s share of responsibility while the “avoidant parent” is much less involved with the child or may even be obstructing decision-making because of his/her limited acceptance of the child’s special needs.

The challenge for me, as the mediator, is to support the parents in having conversations about their special needs child, and to do it with both empathy and pragmatism. Since I need to understand the severity of the child’s disability, I ask questions such as:

  • Has the child been evaluated or tested? If so, what was the diagnosis?
  • What is the current as well as the long-term prognosis?
  • Does the child receive special assistance at school?
  • How does the condition affect the child’s life now and in the future?
  • How does the condition affect the parents’ lives now and into the future?

It is important that I have as clear an understanding as possible, so that I can begin to help the couple in more focused ways and guide them in the decisions they need to make. For instance, parents may need to obtain updated testing for their child. They may benefit from speaking with a specialist or disabilities expert. The results of these conversations will provide the parents with valuable information and insights that we can then use in mediation as we craft a settlement agreement that truly reflects what their family will need as they move forward.

Just as these discussions are necessarily more complicated and detailed, so too are the parenting arrangements that are articulated in their agreement. This will be the topic of my next article.

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