ALL THE LEGAL STUFF

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I’ve learned a lot this summer about myself, my son, the people I’ve chosen to be apart of our lives.. And I’ve learned that I do not wish custody battles upon even my worst enemies. And that means a lot coming from me. Just like my life (and unfortunately Riot’s too) is evolving and morphing and mutating into God only knows what, RRRIOTmama is too. Just a bit. Not all that much. Encompassing more than I had originally anticipated. But, I know if I’m going through all this craziness than there are a million other ASD mamas fighting the battle too. As soon as RRRIOTmama went live and I published my very first post, I told the world, or whoever was reading, that this was going to be my outlet to share the story of my family’s journey navigating through whatever autism was about to throw our way. When I said that, although I knew we’d be facing struggles, I really meant that I couldn’t wait to share all of Riot’s accomplishments and keep track of everything new that he was learning about himself and the world. Obviously I’ve kept my word with that and gushed about every single new thing he’s done because he’s just too damn rad to not celebrate.

I know I’ve mentioned in one of my previous posts that families with an ASD diagnosed child are considerably more likely to separate or divorce than those with neurotypical children. Just when I thought I was getting quite knowledgable about all things autism, today I learned SO much more! Granted it was stuff I never wanted to have to learn about, but now that I’m pretty much an autism advocating, ass kicking, certified lawyer (…you can get do that with a certificate program, right?) this new addition of a page is here to stay, snuggled up top in the AUTISM101 drop down menu, for reference and help if you  (or a friend) suddenly find your world imploding too.

 

Two paragraphs deep and I’ve forgotten to actually mention that this page is dedicated to ALL THE LEGAL THINGS!.. Well, legal in regards to.. drum roll, please.. Separation! Divorce! Probate Court! Family Court! Parenting Plans! Co-Parenting! Are you excited yet? Yea, no.. If you’ve gotten this far and it’s because you actually need some of these resources I’m going to share, go grab some tissues because sifting through this stuff will leave you pretty weepy. I’ll be linking various sites throughout the page, but they’ll all also be listed again at the very bottom so you don’t have to go back digging through my blabbering.

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FIRST THINGS FIRST: CHIN UP. STAY STRONG. PUT ON SOME LIPSTICK, MAMA.

And, here. This song and music video. My gift to you. Anytime and every time I have felt weak this summer.. or sad, or clearly delusional if I was missing my ex momentarily.. I’d put this jam on and it’d instantly snap me back into reality. BOOM! Ain’t no autism mamas got time for breakup depression!

From the moment you became a mum you knew that your life being all about you was long over. So if you’re amidst a new breakup or in the thick of the custody war, even though this time is so sucky, remember that your little needs you tons and and try your best to keep up with that consistency and routine that keeps them chuggin’ along, for the most part, everyday. Unfortunately, this is something that we cannot completely shield them from. This is going to change their life now.. Just make it as easy of a transition as it can be for them as possible. Stick to keeping the days the same so they know what to expect, just how they like it.. Play outside, have the regular ABA session, behavioral therapist, OT, give ’em all of the early interventionalists they’re expecting so that they don’t fall behind while you try to keep a smile on your face.
And give them extra hugs if they’ll allow it.

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Autism And Divorce: Guidelines For Family Court Practice

I really wish that I had found this .PDF first instead of last during my internet hunt for whatever legal information I could find about preparing a parenting plan/custody agreement around a child on the spectrum and their particular needs. It’s definitely not a quick easy read (especially if you’re like me and insist on taking notes and maybe a break to cry), but it’s a gold mine of information.

Ready? Here’s a list of everything it covers (cloaked in separation and divorce):

  • Understanding Autism And The Importance Of Intervention
  • Residential Custody
  • Legal Custody
  • Parenting Time (Visitation) By A Noncustodial Parent
  • Removal Of An Autistic Child To Another State
  • Appointment Of Expert Witnesses And Child Psychologists
  • Appointment Of Guardian ad Litem For A Child
  • Child Support
  • Private School Tuition For An Autistic Child
  • Emancipation
  • Alimony
  • Equitable Distribution
  • Health Insurance
  • Life Insurance
  • Tax Exemptions
  • Legal Fees
  • Divorce And Autism: The Need For Creative Problem Solving By Family Courts

Autism and Divorce: Guidelines For Family Court Practice was put together by a law office based out of New Jersey. Obviously things like child support, alimony, health insurance, etc, will vary depending on where you’re located, but ultimately the core information in each section is really great and worth getting yourself familiar with. If you don’t have time to go digging through all 11 pages now, I pulled out some of the good to know stuff for you.

..VERY IMPORTANT FACTORS IN CONSIDERING WHICH PARENT IS BEST EQUIPPED TO ASSIST THE AUTISTIC CHILD ON A DAILY BASIS AND TO SEE CHILD’S DEVELOPMENT AND PROGRESS WITH INTENSITY AND CONSISTENCY..

1. Each parents role in obtaining initial diagnosis of autism.
2. Each parents acknowledgement and acceptance of the child’s ASD, as opposed to denial.
3. Each parents role in obtaining early intervention and therapy for the child.
4. Each parents ability to reinforce and follow through on daily recommended behavioral interventions, and the level of participation the parent has in working with autistic child.
5. Each parent’s history of increasing his or her education on the needs of an autistic child.. Attending seminars, joining support groups, engaging in other self-education techniques.
6. Each parents history of willingness to be a tireless and effective advocate for autistic child and ability to do so.
7. Each parents ability to handle the emotional and psychological stress involved with raising an autistic child on a daily basis.
8. Each parents understanding and appreciation of the window of opportunity concept and the importance of early intense intervention and the potential consequences to child and family if intervention does not take place.
9. The quality of the special education the child will receive while in the parents care.

arrow-down-hereWhen I first came across that list earlier it really.. Got to me.. It very quickly brought on a wave of memories of past fights and things that really bothered me, but I bit my tongue to keep the peace. That list got to me in a way that pissed me off! By the end of reading it I just wanted to yell out

FUCK YEA I’M GOING TO BE RIOT’S BIGGEST, LOUDEST ADVOCATE! I’M GOING TO STOP EVERYTHING ELSE I HAD PLANNED, LEARN EVERYTHING I POSSIBLY CAN AND WE ARE GOING TO DIVE RIGHT INTO THIS!??

UGH Just typing that made me audibly grunt and want to punch something! I’m not the only one, right?

 

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Oooh, co-parenting. Get real used to loving and hating that term.

Co-parenting describes a parenting situation where two parents work together to raise a child even though they are not married, divorced, separated or no longer living together. Sounds easy enough, right? LOLOLOL If you’re still unclear what this “co-parenting” unicorn-term is I found that this website, MoneyCrashers.com (?), does a pretty good job going over it in more detail. It’s never going to be easy at first, but for the love of God, just put in an OUNCE of effort toward this dream of co-parenting. If you’re putting up any resistance at all it’s just going to make both of our existences comparable to Chinese water torture for the next 18+ years.. and we’ll wind up with a kid who spends the rest of their life trying to recover from their childhood. So, ya, just cut the shit.

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Parent’s of neurotypical kids are all co-parenting is for the birds, but at least you guys can really limit, if not completely eliminate, communicating with each other if you want to..

You know what SUCKS? Wanting to NEVER communicate with someone, but absolutely having to on a regular basis still. (wtf, didn’t I just break up with you because I hated you?!) And that’s what autism parents have to do in order to seamlessly reinforce whatever the current therapy goals for your little are. And then there’s keeping each other in the loop with any sensory issues or meltdowns that spurred from over/under stimulation while they were with the other parent.. Meltdowns triggered by the break in the child’s consistent, structured schedule they’re used to, especially if it’s going to delay the agreed upon exchange time. Oooh and it sucks way way more if you’re co-parenting with someone who refuses to bite the bullet and communicate these things with you.. even though it’s just what has to be done in order for you guys to make sure that the child continues to get the same help and prompting in both households.  Parents need to be on the same page in helping the child generalize the skills they’ve learned from their therapists so they’re able to adapt in each home with the new routines. Assuming you and your ex aren’t instantly bffs after the split, implementing this kind of communication really takes the whole co-parenting thing to a new level of annoyance and hate.. Like wanting to light them on fire.

PSA: Down at the bottom of the page where the list of links will be, I’m post a little image I made with some co-parenting questions that I stole from one of these sites.. I think it should be mandatory that everyone print it out on an index card and keep it in their wallet or wherever to remind them a bit everyday to tone down the parent vs. parent hate. 

 

 

 

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So, now that you have a well-rounded beginners level knowledge of ASD specific family/probate court legal information and you’ve swallowed your pride and put your big girl co-parenting pants on, you’re as ready as you’ll ever be to start figuring out what you want your custody/parenting plan to look like. Don’t get too attached to whatever you initially dream up in your head though because chances are your ex is definitely going to fight you on it when you go in front of the mediator.

Your state may have a parenting plan outline or template available on their website, but of course Massachusetts didn’t. You can find tons on Google, but so far I’ve been most impressed with the one that New Hampshire uses. It’s thorough, detailed, and was perfect to use as a cheat sheet while customizing it to cater to my broken family’s needs. Click here to open up the NH Parenting Plan .PDF in a separate window.  A few months ago I was able to get minimal free legal aide and the attorney was hardly any help at all. Anyways, she typed up a “parenting plan” for me to bring to our first hearing. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was one page typed. Only the front of the page. Our parenting plan only consisted of mythical parenting/visitation time. 

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Just, no. Thanks for nothing.

That pathetic excuse of a custody agreement/parenting plan is why I suggest you start with that NH one in the link. After talking to a lot of friends who’ve already been through this, I took the advice of coming up with a plan that was pretty detailed. 7 pages of rules, guidelines, and structure that, as long as we both behave and follow it accordingly, should technically leave us conflict-free.

LOL.

 

Depending on where your child is on the spectrum, you’ll likely be adding in at least a few clauses to your custody agreement that the parent’s of a neurotypical child would not have. As far as actual parenting time/visitation goes, where the neurotypical family may be able to effortlessly agree on 50/50 and split it right down the middle, we will not be able to do that. All of this time is not just ours to do what we want with and split up so we can spend time with our kid. With an autistic child, every hour of every day is  planned out. There is structure that is a necessity and it’s not ours to break just because we have broken up or divorced and want more time with our child. So, with that being said, when you are figuring out days, times, and that whole visitation situation, remember to do so around things like their therapy sessions, etc. Just typing that reminded me that I need to add into mine that when Riot’s ABA hours increase at some point on a Wednesday when we are supposed to swap, that we need to be able to adjust our times, without conflict, to accommodate as many more hours as they are able to increase him to.. Which means that one of us will then have a few more hours than the other every week, but we don’t get to be pissy and mad at the other about it, because it’s what we HAVE to do to makes sure Riot gets what he needs.

Now, watch, I’m going to be the one that looses out on 4 hours a week and I’ll be bitter for months over it.

Oh! And don’t forget to add in a section for how you two will be handling IFSPs, IEPs, bla, bla, bla, all the acronym meetings. The way I see it, the more detailed this whole plan is, the less margin for error, the less opportunities for something to come up where we are expected to be able to handle it like mature, respectful, picture perfect co-parents all on our own..

Only for the whole thing to go up in flames.?

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You can fill/type out your parenting plan in advance and bring it with you to propose when you and your ex go in front of the mediator or you can leave it blank and duke it out right then and there and make all of the decisions together.. OR if you guys absolutely can’t come to an agreement, the mediator will give you guys the boot and you’ll wait to go in front of the judge. 

 

 

WTF is a GUARDIAN AD LITEM??!

(pretty sure it’s pronounced *at light* or something very close to that.)

A Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) is a term, well, a person, that I feel like a lot of people don’t know about. Out of all the custody battles and divorces I’ve had friends bitch about, I’ve only heard someone reference using a GAL once and it was a domestic a&b case between the parents and their child was an infant and clearly could not advocate for themselves.
A Guardian Ad Litem is a neutral person appointed by the court to represent the best interest of the child. The GAL will not enter a case until ordered by a judge, BUT if either parent feels as though they’re being misrepresented and that the judge is not getting a true understanding of the real situation, they’ll benefit from requesting that the judge order a GAL. Well, ultimately it’s the child that benefits from a GAL being involved since amidst a cut throat, heated custody case it’s no shocker that parents will likely say some not great things about the other just to make themselves appear to be the more adequate parent. When it comes to the custody and division of parenting time of an autistic child, the AUTISM AND DIVORCE: GUIDELINES FOR FAMILY COURT PRACTICE says that parenting time and even custody should be conditioned upon the parent’s ongoing compliance with the child’s therapeutic needs, including ongoing parental training and education… Sounds to me like all the more reason why a Guardian Ad Litem should be a staple in all custody orders involving an ASD child. A GAL will also be able to get a good gauge on the parent’s quality of time in caregiving which the judge will want to take into consideration.

Here, this gives you a way more legit job description… 

The guardian who acts as an investigator and reporter tends to view his or her role as developing a factual understanding of the child’s life, each parent’s life (or other parties if the custody or visitation dispute involves someone other than the child’s parents), and the child’s relationship with parents, step-parents, siblings, relatives and other care providers and providing that information to the court.   A guardian is uniquely situated to interview the parents and child, observe the parents with the child on multiple occasions, do surprise home inspections of the parents, and talk to and obtain information from the parents.  In this role, the guardian’’s task is to present the court with the necessary and unbiased information that a judge would want in order to make a just decision on custody and visitation disputes. The guardian who acts as an advocate for the child’s best interests advocates his or her view of what should be done as regards the decisions the court is asked to make regarding that child.

Because the guardian is an advocate for the child’s best interests, the guardian is empowered to bring motions to modify custody or visitation or to add what the guardian believes are necessary restraints on the parents’ activities to protect the child from a parent’s dangerous behavior.
(got this info here. I’ll link a much more thorough .PDF about GALs at the end)

Oh! It’s important to know that if either parent does not agree with the GAL’s findings that they tell the judge, they have a right to cross-examine the GAL before the court.

 

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Autism Speaks. Summary Of Answers To Frequently Asked Legal Questions.
FAST FORWARD TO PAGES 15-20 for the answers to the questions below regarding divorce in this Autism Speaks .PDF

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V.     Divorce

a. What is the proper way to help the court so that it understands the many facets of autism?
b. Can one divorced parent move forward with an evaluation if the other parent does not constant?
c. What is the best way to implement coordinated care between divorcing spouses so that the child has consistency?
d. How should divorced parents handle finances over the lifetime of a parent after divorce?

 

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Get the right people in your corner.

An advocate assists when you work with your school (or other agency) to plan your child’s education by writing letters, attending meetings, helping you to understand what services your child may be entitled to under the law, and negotiating with administrators. An experienced advocate may also help you find local professionals to diagnose or treat your child. Advocates typically charge by the hour and fees vary widely. Free advocacy services are available and you should never hesitate to ask for help if you are unable to pay the full fee.

An attorney legally represents your child in special education (IEP) disputes. (In some places, only attorneys may represent your child; parents and advocates may not be allowed to do so.) In practice, almost all the work attorneys do is really advocacy: negotiating with school administrators to reach a settlement without involving a judge. Attorneys also bill hourly and are usually far more expensive than advocates.

 

LOOK UP ALL THE RESOURCES STATE BY STATE!

millions of phone numbers and contact info

for all of the help you could possibly need compiled onto two websites.

it couldn’t be made easier.

Wrightslaw Yellow Pages For Kids

Find educational consultants, psychologists, educational diagnosticians, health care providers, academic therapists, tutors, speech language therapists, occupational therapists, coaches, advocates, and attorneys for children with disabilities on the Yellow Pages for Kids for your state.

MASSIVE NATIONAL DIRECTORY of Special Education Legal And Advocacy Services, Educational Consultants 

 

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It’s the worst when you know you have to pull it together and be strong, bla, bla, bla, but being so overwhelmed by all of this even happening (whyyyyyy is this happening to meee?!) that you just want to curl up in a ball on the floor. But then you can’t because now there’s a toddler body slamming you.. which reminded you to stay strong like everyone keeps telling you. (I am so sick of hearing people telling me to stay strong.) It’s mix of feelings accepting becoming a single parent and suddenly having all of this legal shit to take care of on top of it. There’s just no extra time in the day when you’re a mom to drop everything and start an Internet scavenger hunt to locate all of this stuff.. Especially since every time you take out your phone or iPad to start, it gets snagged by a certain Little YouTube Fien. I honestly pray that no one that follows RRRIOTmama ever needs any of this information.. but if any of you or your friends ever do, I hope that having all of this information gathered in one place takes the edge off of that massive anxious overwhelming feeling. It’ll make getting the ball rolling just a little bit easier. Hang in there.. They say it’ll get easier. And, of course, if you ever want to talk to someone who’s already been through it (well.. Still going through it..) don’t hesitate to send me a message.. Even if we don’t know each other IRL. xo.

 

Introduce yourself and say what you need to say!

 

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LINKS REFERENCED ON THE PAGE

Autism and Divorce: Guidelines For Family Court Practices 

New Hampshire Parenting Plan Cheat Sheet .PDF

What Is Co-Parenting?

Autism Speaks  Talks Divorce

Wrightslaw Yellow Pages For Kids

Massive Directory of Legal And Advocacy Services

ADDITIONAL HELPFUL LINKS

Lighting Up Family Law In Blue: Autism’s Impact On The Family And Family Law

Divorce: Creating Parenting Plans For Children With Special Needs

68 Page Massachusetts Doc About GALs