Positively Paula

Joint Custody with Special Needs Children

Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Imagine this: you have joint custody and your child has special needs. You've just learned after the fact that your ex allowed your child to spend the night at a classmate's house without her medicine or equipment. You've politely asked, gently reminded, e-mailed, called, and screamed over the years to try to get your ex to pay more attention. Or, at least give you a heads up so YOU can take the medicine over to the classmate's house. This is a much bigger deal than forgetting to pack a toothbrush.

I don't know how many stepfamilies have children with special needs, but I do know that there are about 30 million children under the age of 13 living in a stepfamily. And, UPI.com's article, "14 Percent of U.S. Kids with Special Needs," dated March 5, 2008, points out that "10.2 million U.S. children have special healthcare needs." I believe that adds up to quite a few stepfamilies that are struggling with some kind of special needs issues.

Of course, parents with joint custody often have different values and rules. It can be truly frustrating when you strive to put your child to bed by 9 p.m. on a school night and your ex allows your child to stay up until 10:30 p.m. routinely. But, what about when your child is on a special diet and your ex totally ignores the dietary restrictions? There may not be an immediate negative health consequence, but what can you do if you worry about negative consequences that could occur over time?

I'd like to hear your solutions. I haven't seen many resources to assist stepfamilies with special needs children. For starters: Vent to friends who may not truly understand because they aren't in a stepfamily with a special needs child? Mediation? Go to court? You probably feel like you HAVE to do something! Another step is to connect with others who may be facing similar issues. Maxine Groves recently started a Facebook group called, "Stepfamilies with Special Needs Kids." Check it out.

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