Kelly Byrnes & Danker, PLLC continues to be fully available to serve the needs of both our existing clients as well as new clients for their family law matters. Although we are primarily working remotely due to the impact of COVID-19, we remain fully operational and accessible to meet with clients via video and telephone conferencing during this time period. Read More

Addressing child custody issues with an autistic child

As many Virginia parents of children with special needs can relate, you have undoubtedly encountered emotional, financial and logistical challenges in trying to provide care and treatment for an autistic child. When you decided to divorce, you may have immediately started to worry about how to broach the topic with your son or daughter. In fact, you might have even wondered if he or she would be able to grasp the concept and, if so, would be able to process his or her emotions.

Just as raising a child with autism requires special focus and cooperation between you and your spouse, navigating divorce will also necessitate many discussions and plans on how to talk to your child and how to help him or her cope with life changes. One thing is certain: The more amicable you and your spouse can be when negotiating terms of agreement and in co-parenting as you move on in life, the less stressful your circumstances might be for everyone, including your child.

Assess your child’s level of understanding before discussing child custody 

Autism is a broad term that refers to a spectrum of behaviors and symptoms. Some kids are high-functioning autistic while others are unable to function on a daily basis without specialized care. How you talk to your child about divorce and child custody issues may depend on his or her level of understanding and functioning ability.

You can adapt your conversation in ways that will best help your child to be aware of what’s happening and cope with numerous issues, such as having to move to a different house or attend a new school, perhaps, or living with you part of the time and your co-parent the rest of the time. If you know that your child doesn’t handle changes well, you can take extra precautions to gently explain what is going to happen.

Avoid giving more information than is necessary 

If your child is able to discuss the topic of divorce and can ask questions, it’s always best to be honest. For instance, if he or she asks how you feel about getting divorced, you can admit that you feel sad or are angry about some things. However, you need not explain private issues that need to be kept between the parents. In speaking to a child with autism about divorce, the fewer details you provide is often the best approach.

While remaining honest, provide basic answers to the questions, but avoid responding to the adult issues and the substance of the dispute. It is important for your child to hear both parents verbally express your love for him or her. It’s also good to let your child hear you and your co-parent say that he or she is not to blame for your divorce.

What to do if legal problems arise 

You and your spouse might disagree about certain child custody issues or family issues, such as which doctors your child should visit or what type of therapy that he or she should receive to help achieve his or her full potential. The more detailed your co-parenting agreement is, the less likely you’ll encounter legal complications.

If a legal problem does arise, however, you can be proactive to try to resolve it. It might be as simple as asking the court to modify your existing court order to change a pick-up time or location for child custody transfers. Of course, while going through this situation, you should rely on the advice and counsel of an attorney to assist and support you.