Are you a parent with a special needs child? Are you and your spouse or partner separating? Parents of children with special needs face unique challenges when separating or divorcing. Divorce can be a time of stress for a lot of parents. When a special needs child is involved the conflict can be even more challenging. Parents should always focus on the best interests of their children during this process. It is particularly critical for parents of special needs children to communicate in a healthy and cooperative manner.
If you are a parent of a special needs child you know that the demands of caring for the child can be overwhelming. There are life-long financial concerns to consider and long-term commitments to caring for and nurturing of your special needs child.
In Pennsylvania, parents are required to financially support their children until the child reaches the age of 18 or graduates from high school, whichever occurs last. However, the duty of support for a special needs child may be extended well past these milestones. A person with special needs may not be capable of financially supporting themselves and will require the financial assistance of their parents well into their adult life. While there are county, state and federal programs available to assist special needs individuals with medical insurance, food, shelter and other basic needs, those services can be limited and your child may or may not qualify. Additionally, budgetary issue can result in reduced or eliminated benefits for some special needs individuals. In some cases, social security disability payments are insufficient to cover a person’s overwhelming financial needs. Even if you are not married to your child’s parent, child support is payable by parents in Pennsylvania.
If you and your partner or spouse are separating you are probably worried about how custody will be handled. In Pennsylvania, the courts must consider the best interests of the child in determining the custody arrangement. If you have a child with special needs, it is important that your attorney has a thorough understanding of your child’s individual needs. Creating a parenting schedule may take time and a lot of thought. An attorney who works with parents of special needs children will be able to anticipate the legal issues that can arise in these unique cases. For example, a special needs child may experience difficulties transitioning between two different households in a joint custody scenario. Stability and structure for your child may be a very important concern that will need to be addressed when drafting a parenting plan. Your child may do better with a set routine and schedule. Equal time with both parents may or may not be in your child’s best interests. If your child has a physical disability it will be important to make sure that both parents’ home are designed to meet your child’s needs. Additionally, working parents should make sure that caregivers are properly trained to address your child’s special needs.
When it comes to decision making, a certain level of cooperation and communication is necessary to co-parent your special needs child. Parents of special needs children often must work with multiple professionals. If a child is eligible for special education services at a public school, parent participation is critical. Parents will need to be able to cooperate to select and work with doctors, teachers, therapists and other professionals. If parents have difficulties communicating with each other, a mediator or parent coordinator may be helpful.
Finally, when deciding how to divide property in a divorce, your special needs child should be considered. In Pennsylvania, the courts divide marital property using a process called equitable distribution. Special accounts established during the marriage for the children should be evaluated to determine how they will be treated in the divorce. Some families are able to create a special needs trust for the child to provide for his or her future needs.
If you are a parent of a special needs child who is going through a divorce or separation, please contact our office for an in depth consultation to review your specific circumstances. We represent parents of children with special needs and can help you develop a parenting plan that is tailored for your child’s individualized needs. We also represents parents of special needs children in divorce, child support, and child custody litigation.