What Should I Consider When I Have Custody of a Child Who Has Special Needs?

August 24, 2022
Chester County Divorce Lawyers at Eckell Sparks Keep Children’s Needs Foremost in Divorce Cases.

A divorce with children involved takes particular focus. The divorcing spouses and their lawyers must always keep the children’s best interest in mind. When a child has special needs, this goal becomes even more crucial.

Children with mental or physical disabilities generally require more care and attention than those without special needs. Therefore, the parenting plan that is part of the divorce decree should address these special considerations. 

Divorcing spouses must realistically determine their ability to provide the necessary level of care to a child with disabilities. Many times, one parent is already the primary caregiver and, as a result, will often be granted sole physical custody of the child in a divorce.

Even so, that does not mean that shared custody is out of the question. Parents who genuinely want to share custody of a child with disabilities must work out a plan that addresses the following issues with no ill effect or detriment to the child.

Primary Residence

A child with special needs will often have medical and therapy equipment, beds, learning devices, feeding equipment and nutritional supplements, and medications as part of their daily routine. Divorcing spouses should realistically determine whether the child should have one primary residence to accommodate all of their needs. They should also determine if overnight stays at the other spouse’s home are safe. When choosing the primary residence, they should also consider proximity to the child’s medical providers and schools.

Medical Care and Insurance

A frank discussion must occur on who will take the child to appointments with medical providers and others who help them. In a shared parenting plan, each party should divide these responsibilities as equally as possible if there is no detriment to the child.

A child with disabilities will also need insurance and other financial resources. Divorcing couples seeking shared custody must determine whose insurance the child will be under and who will pay co-pays, deductibles, and additional costs. They should also determine costs for therapies and other items insurance does not cover and itemize who will pay for what.


Spouses who want to share custody in a divorce involving a child with special needs must ensure they each have adequate time to give the child. There may be visits with medical and therapy providers, instructors, and appointments with mental health care and nutrition experts.

Raising a child with special needs can be a full-time job. A divorcing couple should be realistic about the time they each can give to which activities.

Financial Resources

Having a child with disabilities may take more financial resources than raising a child without special needs. There may be special transportation or medical equipment or costly at-home care, learning, and therapies. Couples who want to share custody will explicitly outline who will pay for what.


If a child has special needs but attends public school, parents seeking shared custody should decide which school system is best for the child. That will help determine primary residence.

If a child does not attend public school but still gets special educational help, parents should also decide how to equitably split the costs.

Care Expectations

A child with special needs is often difficult to care for alone. Couples who want a shared parenting plan must agree on daily, weekly, and monthly schedules for care, transportation, activities, schooling, and other activities that are fair and equitable.


A shared parenting plan for a child with special needs must outline whether visitations inside or outside the home are viable, as well as overnight stays and vacations. If so, parents should share the visits as equally as possible as long as they are safe for the child.  

In addition, if the child has special equipment or other needs, the spouses must determine how to transport the child safely.

Communication and Decision-Making

Co-parents must plan how often they will communicate, what topics they need to share, and how they will react in an emergency. In addition, parents must decide what decisions they can make alone or together.

The bottom line is that shared custody of a child with special needs can be a reality. It takes a good lawyer and open and civil spouses. A child’s best interests should be at the center of every divorce, and that includes a child with special needs.

Chester County Divorce Lawyers at Eckell Sparks Keep Children’s Needs Foremost in Divorce Cases

Divorce is never easy when there are children involved. If a child has special needs, a parenting plan must effectively address them. Our Chester County divorce lawyers at Eckell, Sparks, Levy, Auerbach, Monte, Sloane, Matthews & Auslander, P.C. help divorcing spouses do what is in their children’s best interests. Call us at 610-565-3701 or contact us online to schedule an appointment. Located in Media and West Chester, Pennsylvania, we serve clients in Delaware County, Chester County, and Montgomery County.