Marriage is hard. Even in the best of circumstances, with a couple who is head over heels in love with each other, there will be difficult times. I think we have all heard the much touted statistic that states that 50% of all marriages end in divorce. This percentage jumps to between 80% and 90% for couples who have a child with special needs.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in ten children who are between the ages of 4 and 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD. This is something that has been increasing over the past few years. The CDC also has statistics that show that 1 in 110 children has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. This, too has increased in the past few years. Ultimately, what these numbers mean is that there are a lot of families who have at least one child who has some kind of special need.
Parenting can be a roller coaster ride. There are going to be good days, and bad days. I don’t think anyone truly expects that their child will always behave perfectly. Even so, it can be very stressful to be “that mom” whose child is pitching a fit in the middle of a grocery store, with a handful of strangers watching. Some of these strangers may be quietly judging your parenting skills, while others will be blunt about their perceptions of the situation.
This specific behavior is one that many children will, eventually, outgrow. However, a child with certain kinds of special needs may never age out of this kind of emotional response. This is one example of how parents of children who have special needs tend to have a more difficult time than parents whose children are “neurotypical”, or who fit into what is considered “normal” for their age. Over time these extra stressors can play a role in what causes a marriage to unravel.
Divorce affects not only the two people who no longer want to be married to each other, but also the children that those two people have together. There will be changes, and children who are on the autism spectrum, for example, typically do not easily adapt to a change from what was expected.
If you are seriously considering a divorce, and you are a parent of a child who has a special need or a disability, there are some things you should be aware of. Lisa Helfend Meyer wrote an excellent article that outlines some of what you can expect to experience.
Custody is awarded by a court based on the best interest of the child. A court is going to consider the developmental age of a child, in addition to the child’s chronological age. Visitation is going to be based on what the child is ready for. A court may order a co-parenting counselor for one or for both of the parents, in order to make sure the child’s needs are put first. Awards of child support may take state requirements into account, based on the needs of the child.
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