Arndt, Sutak & Miceli, LLC

Autism Spectrum Disorder in Divorce

According to statistics provided by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 34 children in New Jersey have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Naturally, this means that many divorces in New Jersey involve children who are on the spectrum. Considering the needs of all children in a divorce requires many important, and often crucial, considerations.

One important consideration is how parents will address how to tell the child or children that they are divorcing each other. While it is certainly up to the parents to consider what is best for their children, in our experience, it is often beneficial to consider the assistance of professionals. This is especially true when considering breaking this news to a child on the spectrum. Specifically, if a specialist or therapist is working with your family, be guided by their advice with respect to how to handle the news as well as changes it may present to their routine or schedule, and in how to address responses to unwanted changes to the routine. There is little doubt that children are resilient, but having a plan for responding to negative outbursts related to changes in routines or schedules and ensuring that both parents are consistent with the specialist or therapist recommendations will assist the child/children.

It is not uncommon for us to hear that our clients want “a typical parenting time arrangement” or what our clients believe they or their former spouse is entitled to under the law as it relates to time with their children. It is equally as common for our clients to report what arrangements they have been told about for other families. It is important to understand that just as every child is unique, often so is the parenting time plan that works best for each family. While there are certainly some “defaults” that many people agree to, they are just that, terms of an agreement reached by the parents. In every case, but especially those with children on the spectrum, it may also be necessary to create a more non-traditional parenting plans that considers the unique needs of each child. Some children with ASD have unusually strong ties to a particular routine, parent, or sibling. These issues must be kept in mind when structuring a parenting time schedule and custody arrangement.

For example, it may seem “overboard” that parents should have to send pajamas and a blanket to the other parent for overnight parenting time. However, in one recent case in our firm, that was a term that specifically was included in the agreement as the child has sensory issues and the parents decided that transporting the pajamas and blanket back and forth was less stress on the child than trying to purchase a set for each home. This is certainly not necessary in every case, but this term highlighted what was a unique need of their child that the parents addressed with a more non-traditional agreement.

Another consideration will be related to the child’s educational needs and a need to consider to what extent the school system may be involved in customized arrangements for the child. Regardless of what educational hurdles may be present or what opportunities may be offered between school systems, there is little doubt that both parents will need to be committed to meeting the educational needs of a child diagnosed with ASD.

Finally, there may be financial considerations or medical insurance issues that must be considered as part of the divorce agreement as well. It will be crucial to ensure that the child/children are properly insured so they can receive the best medical care possible. Many parents will consider a long-term plan for an autistic child while divorcing.

The difficult hurdle is that there are no generalizations that apply. There is no one size fits all parenting time plan. Your child is unique and each divorce, especially those involving a diagnosis on the spectrum, is different. Thankfully, New Jersey Courts understand this and attempt to urge parties to discuss their children early and often through the process in the hopes that an agreement can be reached. Make sure you are guided by qualified professionals to ensure that you continue to create the best possible future for your children.

Contact us at 732-867-8894 to schedule a consultation to discuss your child’s parenting time needs and how we can help you provide the best possible future for them.

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