Children’s individual needs should always be considered when coming up with a plan for joint custody, but when one of the children has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), it is especially important to make their unique requirements central to your plan. While your child might be able to successfully navigate a variety of social situations, that doesn’t mean he or she will have an easy time with a joint custody arrangement. As much as both parents might want to have time with the child, it is important to consider a few important factors before making a plan.
Put Your Child’s Needs First
While all children benefit from a stable home environment, some children with ASD need the structure and routine of a stable home life in order to function outside the home. However, this is no reason to stay in an unhappy marriage. An unhappy home full of tension and stress can be just as upsetting to a child with ASD as a divorce. With careful planning, you can provide your child with the support he needs, even in the midst of a divorce. Consider how to maintain an environment with the following important criteria:
- Consistency. Your child with ASD needs to know that the things he depends on are not going to change. Keeping the same school, therapists, social skills programs, friends, recreational activities, and other aspects of his life will be important.
- Calm. Many children with ASD are sensitive to noise and chaos. Too much stimulation can be upsetting, so it is a good idea to keep discussions that could escalate into arguments out of the home. If the child will be living in two houses, each must be equally calm.
- Routine. It will take time for your child to adjust to a new routine, which is why it is vital that you establish a schedule that will not change from day to day. If both parents can’t commit to a strict routine, shared custody might not work.
- Stability. It’s possible that the best situation for your child is one that does not require him to move between houses. This could mean you try “nesting”—where the parents move in and out of the family home and the children stay put—or that one parent maintains physical custody 100 percent of the time.
In order for a custody arrangement for a child with ASD to work, both parents have to be fully committed to the plan. If your ex-husband’s past behavior tells you that he will not be able to uphold his side of the agreement, you might want to insist on sole physical custody from the beginning. If, on the other hand, you need his help in order to manage your child’s special needs, an airtight custody order that is enforced by the courts could be your best friend.
In addition to a solid custody plan, you will need to take expenses related to your child’s ASD into account when making a child support demand, including the possibility that more therapy and intervention may be needed to help your child adjust to the changes.
Divorce Is Stressful Enough—Get Our Help With a Special Custody Order
Raising a child with special needs can be stressful. In fact, parents with these children have a higher divorce rate than those who don’t have children with special needs. As a firm that only represents women in divorce, we understand that mothers of children with ASD have important concerns. You can trust us to put your and your child’s needs first. Contact us to discuss divorce and custody in our Marin County office.