Separation Agreements to Protect Children with Disabilities

Recently, while preparing a separation agreement, my client expressed concerns about how her husband and his family were treating her son.   Her son has attention deficit disorder, but his father and his father’s family do not understand his condition.  The father’s family in particular has unrealistic expectations for the child’s behavior and as a result they are often harsh and demeaning in their treatment towards him.  The father is not protecting his son from his own family.

I got excited thinking about how to craft the separation agreement to accomplish my client’s goal of compassionate, loving care towards her son.  She was committed to sharing legal and physical custody.  I knew that as a young boy with attention deficit disorder, the child was going to need certain things that would allow him to be successful at home and at school.  He was going to need a consistent routine and strict behavioral guidelines, but he was also going to need understanding and patient treatment.  He may need to have medication, so his medication regime would require careful administration and it will need to be monitored for effectiveness and side effects.  Since the boy has special education services at school, the parents will need to attend IEP meetings and will probably need to advocate for their son’s education.  The child may also need tutoring or summer school.  I also know that ADHD is frequently complicated by learning disabilities and social skills needs.  The child is also likely to be a victim of bullying and might develop anxiety or depression.  Whew!  That’s a lot to cover in just one section of a separation agreement!

Since my client was the one who attended school meetings, met with the psychologist and psychiatrist, and tried to create an environment at home that would allow the boy to be successful, we first needed to bring the father up to speed with the child’s needs so that the parents can be on the same page.  From now on, it will be the professionals who would communicate the child’s needs to the father, rather than my client.  The father will need to demonstrate that he understands his son needs, that he can follow professionals’ advice, and that he can create a safe and structured environment for his child.  If the father cannot provide such an environment, the father will not be able to share custody with my client.  After all, it’s all about doing what’s in the child’s best interests!