Karen Ann Ulmer, P.C.
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Special Needs Children and Divorce in PA

Divorce is a complex scenario that confronts many families across the globe every year. The situation becomes significantly more complicated when there is a special needs child involved. Issues of child custody, visitation, and support, and property division all become a little more complicated when the scenario involves a special needs child. There are a handful of things that need to be taken into consideration if you find yourself in this particular situation to ensure you and your child are taken care of.

Some of the first questions to consider are: What are your child's medical and functional needs? How much will it cost to meet these needs and how are they to be managed? Child support charts do not address the additional cost that one may incur when caring for a child that requires specialty medical care, services, equipment, additional vitamins, enhanced nutrition, etc. One may consider consulting a life care specialist to help address these questions from a professional standpoint.


It is not uncommon for the parents of a child with special needs to disagree upon the amount of care or services necessary to meet the needs of the individual child. In this case, it is important that a third party professional is consulted to guide decision-making and offer solutions.


It is the objective of the court to determine what is in the best interest of the child. Common factors taken into consideration include:


  • With whom will the child be living?


  • To what capacity does the parent have the ability to understand and meet the needs of the child?


  • How much contact will the non-custodial parent be allowed?


  • How stable is the household in which the child will reside?

    Each of these considerations become even more prominent when the court is determining the custodial parent.

    Typically in the case of divorce, child support ends at the age of majority or when a child graduates from college. However, when dealing with a child with special needs, there is the possibility of lifelong caregiving. It is the parents' responsibility to remain aware of the child's eligibility for government or private agency benefits, employment, recreational and socialization opportunities, independent living, and custodial care as they transition into adulthood.  It will be necessary that the divorcing parents work together to keep their child actively engaged so that they may work toward becoming a self-sufficient member of society.

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