Co-Parenting A Child With Special Needs

A shift in the family dynamic by way of a separation or divorce is a tense emotional period for any child to go through, but it can be especially hard for a child with special needs. Co-parenting a child with special needs may not be easy, but it is important to put your best foot forward to make it work for the sake of your child's well-being. 

Flexibility will help when adapting to the parenting schedule. 

A parenting schedule should always be a thoughtfully crafted outline for how co-parents will physically care for their children after divorce. In the case where co-parents are caring for a child with special needs, this schedule must be sensitive to their child's care routine. It may take longer for a child with developmental issues or other special needs to adapt to a change in their routine brought about by a parenting schedule. Raising a child with special needs can demand much of one's time and attention. Some parents may decide that it will be best for their child if one parent retains primary physical custody while others may determine that joint custody could work for their family. If parents decide to share physical custody, they each may have to adjust their own routines to accommodate the needs of their child. In this situation, do your best to be flexible and support each other as you start the transition. For example, each parent may require special equipment in their home, so combine your efforts in making sure that each home is equipped as necessary. Stick to the new routine as much as possible to help your child become accustomed to it, but be flexible as needed. Recognize how stressful this transition is on your child, and be prepared with coping mechanisms to help them get through difficult moments. 

Coordinate how decisions will be made for your child.

A child with special needs may require important decisions to be made on a more frequent basis. Medical and education-related topics could call for more discussion to be had between co-parents, especially if they are jointly responsible for making these decisions. Decisions about care may have to be made throughout the child's life even into adulthood. For that reason, co-parents should consider ways to maintain communication in regards to their child over time. A tool like the OurFamilyWizard® website provides several features that can help co-parents document and organize all sorts of relevant information about their child. Over time, using these tools will help co-parents to maintain a thorough log of correspondence regarding scheduling, care, and important decisions. These tools also make it easy for parents to continually share important information like medical records, insurance documents, and more. If co-parents can continue to communicate and collaborate efforts in making important decisions for their child with special needs, they are better able to help set their child up for success now and into the future. 

Enlist help from your care team.

Raising a child with special needs often requires support from within and outside of the family. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, and other family members may play a significant role in providing care. On top of that, outside professionals including doctors, nurses, teachers, tutors, counselors, and others may provide a big hand in caring for a child with special needs. For co-parents, it's important to call upon these individuals when their assistance is required. The support from a team of positive care providers can be a huge help in getting your family through this time of transition. Remember to keep these individuals in the loop of what's going on with your child. Again, using tools like those found on the OurFamilyWizard® website can be a great help in keeping your care team connected. Co-parents can create accounts for their child's many caregivers so that they can access the parenting schedule, write journal entries, and send messages to each parent. This way, everyone can rest assured that they're on the same page.

Take care of yourself, too.

A divorce is a difficult time for the entire family, parents included. Raising a child with special needs while going through a separation or divorce can cause high stress on any individual, often making it harder to handle all of the responsibilities involved in this situation. Even if you are meeting your responsibilities concerning raising your child with special needs and handling your divorce, you still need to monitor your own well-being. Get the help you need from your own care team which may include close friends and family. Give yourself a break here and there to do something you enjoy or spending time with friends. You may even want to seek support from a professional such as a counselor or therapist who can help you maintain your emotional health and well-being. To give your child the best care you possibly can, you must also remember to take care of yourself, too. 

As parents, it is your responsibility to raise your child with special needs as best you can. Finding a way to do so peacefully as co-parents will make this complicated situation easier on your whole family. Try to be flexible when making the transition into a parenting schedule, and find ways to maintain peaceful communication especially when making important decisions for your child. Get help from the team of caregivers around you when you need it. Finally, try not to let your own health and well-being slip. Do your best to take care of your child while also being mindful of your own health and well-being.


NOTE: Many state and federal laws use terms like ‘custody’ when referring to arrangements regarding parenting time and decision-making for a child. While this has been the case for many years, these are not the only terms currently used to refer to these topics.

Today, many family law practitioners and even laws within certain states use terms such as ‘parenting arrangements’ or ‘parenting responsibility,’ among others, when referring to matters surrounding legal and physical child custody. You will find these terms as well as custody used on the OurFamilyWizard website.