Although divorce rates are high among parents of children with disabilities (e.g., Hartley, Barker, Seltzer, Greenberg, Bolt, Floyd, & Orsmond, 2010) coparenting education classes are just beginning to develop tracks, components, or programs for separating or divorcing parents who have children with disabilities. At the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) annual conference last month, the fact that coparenting education classes have neglected to attend to special circumstances linked to coparenting a child with a disability was discussed in a few of the sessions I attended. I followed up with a few coparenting education classes when I returned from the conference and was energized to learn that some of the online programs are beginning to address this issue!
Michelle Muncy of Online Parenting Programs is one example of an online program that is planning to develop an online coparenting education program for parents who are coparenting children with disabilities. Focus on Kids, an online coparenting education class developed by Dr. David Schramm and colleagues at The University of Missouri is another example. Focus on Kids now offers fact sheets for families with special circumstances. The fact sheets that Dr. Schramm and colleagues have created for divorcing parents who have children with disabilities cover a range of topics that are especially relevant to this special circumstance; some of the topics include:
- Custodial rights or what to expect as a primary caregiver of a child with a disability
- How to divide medical costs for children with disabilities
- The children’s cognitive capacity to understand their parents’ divorce
- Special issues that need to be documented in parenting plans
- Issues specific to children who have life-threatening, chronic, psychological & behavioral disabilities
With the high divorce rates for parents of children with disabilities, some of these issues in the Focus on Kids’ fact sheets are crucial components to coparenting education. Although many parents experience similar challenges when going through the separation or divorce process, it is important for programs to address the unique needs and challenges linked to families with special circumstances. Special circumstances are not limited to children with disabilities; coparenting when intimate partner violence, alcoholism, or military duties influence parents’ roles also provide unique challenges in the separation processes. In some situations, one parent may be largely absent from the child’s life, and these families may benefit from additional support in educational settings (online or face-to-face). Although the transition to tailoring information to families with special circumstances has been slow, it is promising to see that programs have begun to address these issues!