Co-parenting after a divorce can be challenging no matter how amicable the split. Parents of special needs children can find these circumstances even more difficult and emotionally draining. If your child has special emotional, physical, or educational needs, these issues should be addressed in a parenting agreement so that parents and caregivers can responsibly and consistently meet those needs.
Although there are a number of unique issues to be considered when parenting special needs children, NOLO’s Building a Parenting Agreement That Works has identified several strategies that most parents should think about:
Typically, the living arrangements are addressed in a basic parenting agreement which can be found here: The Basic Elements of a Parenting Agreement (Part 1). However, there are circumstances where the child may require more intensive, long-term care in a group setting or facility. Sometimes, if the special needs child lives at home, respite care is needed to give the primary parent/caregiver a much-needed break.
Parents will need to decide who the child’s healthcare providers will be, who has the authority to make medical decisions, and how information will be shared between parents. This includes the type of ongoing healthcare such as assessments, medications, therapy, and other treatments. In addition, parents will need to agree on who will take the child to their appointments.
Mental Health Care
Many special needs children require mental health care using psychiatry, therapy, and medication. In addition, family members also need the emotional support mental health professionals can provide. The parenting agreement should include a provision for this type of care and who will be able to make those decisions.
Parents will also need to decide if one or both parents will provide health insurance, and who will pay for medication and/or additional treatment when needed. This is usually covered in a child support agreement; however, this information should still be included in the parenting agreement. Parents may also want to consider taking out life insurance for themselves in the event of an untimely death.
Some children may need specialized child care as the result of a medical or behavioral condition. Parents will need to agree on who makes the decisions for this type of care and work out who is responsible for payment.
Special needs children have very specific issues when it comes to education, which should be clearly addressed in a parenting agreement. Identify which parent (or both) will meet with teachers and other school personnel to develop an educational plan. Other areas regarding education that should be addressed can be found here: Parenting Agreement for Education.
Keep in mind that parenting agreements for special-needs children may need to continue after the child reaches adulthood; sometimes indefinitely depending on the circumstances. Re-evaluate the agreement each year with a therapist who can mediate, make proactive suggestions and help keep everyone on track in the best interests of the child.