Support for Parents of Children with Special Needs: How PA Child Support Law Can Help

The parents of special needs children have a lot on their plate:

  • Therapies
  • Home health aides
  • Appropriate schooling
  • Specialty equipment
  • Doctor’s appointments
  • Caring for the developmentally appropriate children of the household.

The stress skyrockets when the parents are embroiled in child custody and support battles. Some relief may be found in an increase in the child support award due to the increased costs of caring for a child with special needs.

In general, in an effort to streamline the process, Pennsylvania child support calculations make certain assumptions about the amount of time each parent interacts with any one of their children and how much that child is entitled to in support. These general assumptions, though, don’t take into account the uniqueness of special needs.

Thankfully, the law also anticipates this and allows upwards adjustments to child support guidelines based on the special needs of a child.

The court has the ability to break away from support guidelines. Both the caretaking and the non-

caretaking parent has a legal obligation to provide for the reasonable expenses of raising their child, even if that support is a hardship.

Sutliffe v. Sutlifte, (PA Supreme Court, 1987). A child’s own means, whether through trusts, lawsuit settlements, or other methods, does not limit or reduce a parent’s own duty to support. See Sutliffe and Ricco v. Novitski, (PA Superior Court, 2005)

The court looks at numerous things in order to decide whether to deviate from the usual support guidelines, including unusual needs and unusual fixed obligations, the assets of the parties, the standard of living of the parties and their children, the best interests of the child or children, among other things. Pa.R.C.P. 1910.16-5.

This additional support can provide some desperately needed financial resources in order to pay for therapies, aides, and other services. It can also provide some monies to allow the primary parent some respite care in the form of babysitters, living expenses, and breaks from the intense challenges of raising a child with special needs. See Sutliffe and Ricco.

Like all things in child support law, though, the details change from one situation to the next. Any increase in child support, for example, can be offset with other issues such as the ability to pay and time spent in custody.

For that reason alone, it is important to consult with experienced family law attorneys.

Give us a call. We’d love to help you through it.