Ask the Expert: Do You Recommend Mediation for Divorcing Parents of a Child with Special Needs?
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Are there any situations in which you would not suggest mediation?
Mediation helps in every case unless there’s domestic violence, or if someone is trying to hide property, liquidate property or assets, or do something harmful. There should be time to try to talk it out otherwise. But in those instances, when there’s a threat of danger or dissipation of property, they should go to court.
How can parents make their divorce as easy as possible on a child who has special needs?
The most important thing the parents shouldn’t do, particularly with special needs children, is get them involved in any way in their conflict or make them the focal point in the conflict. Keep the child as far away from conflict points as possible, not involving them and not discussing anything with them, because they don’t understand and most have deficiencies in their processing.
Another tip: Parents should really develop a lot of structure for themselves and for their child, and adhere to it. It’s especially important for children on the autism spectrum. They may not be living together, and the disruption of contact with parents can be detrimental to child.
Also, maintaining the child’s education and whatever additional services the child needs is critical. It’s all about the child—parents need to keep that in mind and be committed to the child having the best possible outcome.
Do you recommend continuing mediation after divorce?
It depends if the couple needs it. Go to mediation before you go to conflict. There’s a lot of emotion when people break up and sometimes there are very bad feelings. But parents need to try to put all the personal pain aside so they can address the needs of the child. It’s a difficult thing to do, because people want to express their sadness and outrage and anger, but you want to try to get people in the frame of mind to be positive and move forward.
H. Michael Stern, Esq., MSW, is an attorney and master social worker with more than 27 years of divorce and family law experience. Stern received his divorce mediation certification and specialized training from the New York Center for Interpersonal Development, a program approved by the New York State Office of Court Administration. The Mediation & Law Offices of H. Michael Stern are located at 666 Old Country Road, Suite 555, in Garden City, Long Island. For a free consultation, call 516-747-2290 or 718-348-6723. For more information, visit divorce-mediator.com.