When written in Chinese, the word crisis is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.
–John F. Kennedy
Pegi Price faced danger in her own life and traveled with that danger through the courts. Her new book shows the opportunity that flowed from her struggles and her hard work to make a difference in the lives of special needs children. More on Price’s personal journey later. First, the book.
Price’s The Special Needs Child and Divorce paints a dark picture of the danger looming in our family courts. The court system is overwhelmed. Caseloads are up, and the problems facing judges are more complex than ever. At the same time, more children are diagnosed with special needs, and more of these needs are life changing for every member of the family. More of these children move into, through, and out of our family courts. How many children will fall through the cracks in the family court system? And what hope is there for them once they do?
The opportunity Price presents is to rework the court system: throw out the cookie cutter and rethink how best to meet the needs of the especially vulnerable child. Recognize the “special needs” in the special needs family law case. Consider the child. Find more stability in the parenting plan. Find a better balance for child support. During the family law process, consider the long-term consequences likely to flow from the parenting plan, including those related to property division and spousal support.
Price’s approach is extremely practical. While there are parts of the book that delve into the research and document non-legal aspects of problems, Price moves from considering the larger issues to handling the specific challenges in a particular family law case. She demonstrates proper analysis and effective advocacy. She formulates sample outlines, intake forms, initial pleadings, motions for child support and for a guardian ad litem, and provisions for parenting plans, settlement documentation and judgments in the family law case. And she turns to an estate planning attorney—Joseph R. Burcke—for her chapter on guardianships, special needs trusts, and similar issues that can arise during divorce proceedings and family law cases.
If you have never handled a divorce with a special needs child, Price’s book will benefit you greatly. There is no sense in reinventing the wheel, and there is much to be gained by making your family law client’s wheel work as well as possible. Price will bring you up to a level to competently handle the family law case. You then will be in a position to fine tune the principles, arguments, and form language around your family law client’s circumstances.
This 343-page book is packed with forms and checklists. Even better than having all these forms is having them on a CD-ROM for use during your family law case. The book includes a disk with all the forms and checklists so that you can adapt them to your particular family law case immediately.
Back to Pegi Price and her personal journey. Price establishes her family law practice in St. Louis. In 1998, Price’s own son is diagnosed with autism. He is three years old. For the next three years, health care professionals apply early intervention techniques and therapy to strike back at the autism. Then Price finds herself in divorce court, for her own divorce. She is facing a most personal examination of the crisis in our family courts and is committed to ensuring that the needs of her son are met throughout the divorce process, from divorce consultations to mediation and litigation.
Remarkably, two years later, Price’s son “emerges” from autism, one of the first children in the United States to do so. In 2005, his story airs on NBC. Now, he’s flying airplanes. He’s 14 years old. A marvelous triumph of opportunity over danger!
There is a real danger in processing a “special needs” family law case through a “regular needs” cookie cutter. Price provides you with the opportunity to see the harsh reality facing the child and the family and to rethink the family law case. She will help you rework your analysis and approach to the family law case. She will give you a head start on drafting the forms throughout the litigation process. She will give you the principles to support the argument. The rest is up to you.
Margaret S. Price, THE SPECIAL NEEDS CHILD AND DIVORCE: A Practical Guide to Evaluating and Handling Cases (2009, American Bar Association). $99.95.