Children With Disabilities and Divorce: How Best to Provide for your Child’s Needs

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.


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About the author

About Christopher Casserly

Chris joined the firm in 2013 after graduating from Villanova University School of Law. While at Villanova Chris focused on Family Law and Alternative Dispute Resolution. In addition, he participated in the Villanova Law Civil Justice Clinic where he advocated for indigent clients facing custody issues. Prior to attending law school, Chris received his B.A. from Providence College where he studied English and French. Chris is a Supervising Attorney and Team Leader at LaMonaca Law. Chris was named a “Top Lawyer” in Family Law by Main Line Today in 2015 and 2017, as well as a Best Lawyer in the area of Adoption in the Delaware County Daily Times. He is a member of the American Bar Association Family Law Section, the Pennsylvania Bar Association, and the Delaware County Bar Association, where he serves as chair of the Family Law Section’s Custody Committee. When he’s not advocating for his clients, Chris enjoys cooking, all things Seinfeld-related, and being at the shore with his family and their dog, Molly.