Marjorie JamesI recently read two excellent articles about divorce in families with special needs children. Both point to the care needed to make sure the child’s life is disrupted as little as possible. Special needs children need routine and predictability even more than “typical” children.

Marie Hartwell-Walker, a licensed psychologist and marriage and family therapist, gave five points for consideration that divorcing couples with special needs children need to be aware of. Her article, “Divorce and the Child with Special Needs” was on the Huff Post Divorce site on February 23, 2014. Kales & Kales, PLC, a Collaborative attorney group in northern Virginia, didn’t make a list, but their information in “Divorce and Special Needs Children” on their website,, dove-tailed well with what Ms. Hartwell-Walker had to say.

Both of them emphasized the need to identify the real reason for the divorce; it is not, they say, usually because of the stress of having a special needs child. Rather, it is because there isn’t the communication and support level necessary in the marriage to handle the stress. “We are highly aware of the need for effective co-parenting of special needs children…” (Kale & Kale). Divorce happens many times, they say, because the couple doesn’t have a good handle on the division of care. Too many times one person, usually the mother, does all the care, and the other partner doesn’t “take up the slack” and support when necessary.

Special needs children are hypersensitive to changes in routine and mood. Their parents need to make sure they don’t “broadcast their anger, hurt, grief, or even relief”, according to Ms. Hartwell-Walker. This could lead to anxiety, withdrawal, or acting up on the part of the child. Both writers emphasized the need for as much stability as possible in the home during this unstable time in the family’s life. The child’s needs should be paramount; wise parents plan for that.

Children with special needs have problems with transitions. Because of their need for routine, the lives of these children should be changed as gradually as possible. Parents need to be very careful to provide stability. Even while financial changes are occurring, parents need to make sure that their children do not experience a quick, radical change in their lives.

At some point, former partners may find themselves in a dating situation. For special needs children, again because of their need for consistency and slow transition, introducing a new relationship should not be done, Ms. Hartwell-Walker says, “until you are very sure he or she will be a keeper.”

Both writers emphasized the need for cooperation, working together for the good of the children. Children, especially those with special needs, don’t totally understand the process of divorce and are many times blindsided. That is why working with Collaborative teams is so important.

Copyright 2014. Marjorie E. James. All rights reserved.