Coparenting Children with Disabilities by Jeremy Kanter


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 Kidsresources 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!

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Does technology improve postdivorce relationships?


One of the major challenges divorce parents face is how to communicate effectively post-split, without major arguments. Self-help guides and divorced parenting programs regularly include strategies and suggestions about how to maintain a cordial working relationship with a former spouse. Why? Because one of the most consistent findings about what facilitates children’s adjustment post-divorce is the degree to which former partners limit conflict.

So it is not surprising that scientists have begun to examine whether new electronic communication tools can be a help or hindrance to parents working out their post-divorce relationships. Early work by Aimee Miller suggests that in some cases, e-mail may help faciilate post-divorce communication, but no one has taken an in-depth look at all of the available communication tools until now.

A team of scientists at the University of Missouri led by Lawrence Ganong and Marilyn Coleman studied a group of 49 parents (mostly mothers) after their divorce to determine how divorced parents use communication technologies to manage their coparenting. This qualitative study involved 60 to 90 minute interviews followed by detailed coding methods to extract common themes.

The authors conclude that “communication technologies… make boundary maintenance both easier and more challenging. They are unequivocally neither boon nor bane to divorced co-parents.” For the most part, it seems that the technology tools matter relatively little. Parents who are trying to work on co-parenting can use these tools to enhance their communication and parenting skills. On the other hand, parents who are having difficulty co-parenting together after divorce may use these tools to harass, control and mislead the other parent. The big challenge that remains for divorced parents is not what technology to use to communicate, but how to find a way to work together to raise their children.

For more see Huffington Post….