Divorcing Parents and Their Special Needs Children

A disabled child in a wheelchair with a care assistant going for a walk

{3:12 minutes to read}

I just finished a mediation session with a divorcing couple who have a special needs child, in addition to two typically-developing children. While divorces involving special needs children are often complicated and involve more issues than the “normal” divorce, I find helping these families to be especially rewarding.

I’ve been in and around the special needs community for over two decades—first, as the mother of a young child with both Type 1 diabetes and dyslexia, and later as a board member and president of a non-profit organization that helped children and young adults with learning disabilities. I believe this has given me an in-depth understanding of the hopes, frustrations and concerns of divorcing couples who have a special needs child.

I am humbled when I put their situation in perspective. They have a special needs child who requires daily attention and support. The stress of raising this child more than likely has contributed to the couple’s breakup. While the exact numbers may vary, it is commonly agreed that anywhere from 70% to 85% of marriages fall victim to the strains of a special needs child and end in divorce, which itself is one of the most stressful events in anyone’s life.

Special needs children and divorce is a “double whammy.” It’s as if the couple has been hit by a truck, that then backed up and ran over them again.

As difficult as this situation looks, couples facing it do not need to despair. In fact, there’s actually quite a bit they can do:

 1. Choose mediation as the forum in which to discuss the important issues that need to be settled (whether related to their children or otherwise) as they separate their lives.

As I’ve explained in many of my past blogs, the mediation process encourages and enables couples to jointly work toward an acceptable and pragmatic resolution of their issues. For couples with a special needs child, it is even more important that they work together through the divorce process in creating the best choices for that child, their other children, and themselves.

 2. Divorcing couples can choose a mediator who has a good understanding of the unique issues of children with special needs.

 3. With the help of their mediator and other professionals, they can become as knowledgeable as possible about this complex subject.

In my next few blogs, I’ll be discussing more specific aspects of the topic of divorce and special needs children. Please feel free to comment below if you have any questions you would particularly like me to address.

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One response on “Divorcing Parents and Their Special Needs Children

  1. Karen Kristjanson

    Yes, the challenges faced by parents of children with special needs are humbling. I interviewed several parents in my research for stories of co-parenting and was regularly overwhelmed by their courage and determination.

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