Children With Disabilities and Divorce: How Best to Provide for your Child’s Needs
In the United States, it is estimated that anywhere between forty and fifty percent of children will experience a divorce between their parents. Divorces that involve children are more complicated, more expensive, and often more contentious than those that do not. Also in the United States, it is estimated that fifteen percent of American children ages 3 through 17 have one or more developmental disabilities. In instances where a child of divorcing parents is one of the millions affected by a developmental disability, courts must consider a special set of needs and circumstances in determining what is in the best interest of that child.
In Pennsylvania, courts use a list of fifteen factors to consider when awarding custody. These factors include parental roles and duties, the child’s need for stability, each parent’s capability to care for the child, among others. All fifteen factors fall under the umbrella of the child’s best interest. Judges and Masters apply these factors to custody disputes on a child-by-child basis, with special emphasis being placed on the factors most relevant to each situation. Where a child subject to a custody dispute suffers from a developmental disability, parents and attorneys should focus especially on the child’s ease of transition between homes, frequency of transition between homes, educational decision making, medical needs including therapy, and accommodations at either household. Children living with autism spectrum disorder often struggle with changes and disruptions to their daily routines, and these disruptions can affect behavior and performance at school. For that reason, parents should emphasize uniformity of routine at each household to avoid unnecessary stress for their child and for themselves. As children mature and become adults, divorced parents need to work together and co-parent to identify options for post-secondary education, independent living, and employment. Doing so requires an organized and collaborative approach to supporting and assisting their children emotionally and physically beyond the age of majority.
In every custody action, judges, attorneys, and parents should aim to provide stability during a tumultuous and confusing time for children. For parents of children living with a developmental disability, providing this stability requires selflessness, education, and constant communication. In these cases, any parent who hopes to enjoy substantial custodial time must be ready to demonstrate their commitment to effective co-parenting and continuous care specially tailored to their child’s needs.
To schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys or for further information, call us at LaMonaca Law, at (610) 892-3877