Parents With
Special Needs Children

What About the Divorce Rate Data?

The most frequently cited data regarding divorce rates among parents having Special Needs children are that rates are high – greater than 80% and that the challenges for these divorcing couples are among the most difficult to manage. A broad review of the research reveals that the 80% divorce rate cited may be at best a significant overstatement and at worst factually incorrect. Great care should be taken when making assumptions that divorce for parents of Special Needs children is inevitable. The risk is that accepting this statistic communicates to parents of Special Needs children that it is “normal” for them to divorce.

Our review of the research reveals that the divorce rate for parents with Special Needs children varies widely depending on multiple variables involving the child, the cause, the parents themselves, and it is powerfully affected by the presence of older children in the family. Some Special Needs family groups do have higher divorce rates than averages, but many are in fact lower, depending on these variables.

As research advances, and as we learn more about the subtle differences among the various issues Special Needs children and parents face, our treatment of those having Special Needs and other interventions likely will become more effective. There is no reason from the data to concede that parents of children with Special Needs should divorce.

Setting the statics aside it is true that parents of Special Need children, like parents of children who do not have Special Needs, carry into the divorce equation hopes and dreams for the child’s future. They also sometimes carry their most personal and emotionally charged concerns. But these situations are particularly suitable for mediation. Both parents share common worries about their child’s current and future needs, and their incentive to cooperate is clear.

The professional staff at Heartland Family Mediators offers these parents an array of services, support and referrals intended to address legal, financial, safety and other long-term issues. Using a multidisciplinary and collaborative approach, we begin by using mediation to resolve the issues of the divorce. Our professionals can address the needs of individuals with developmental disabilities, mental illness, physical disabilities or cognitive and neurological diseases.

Help is available in the areas of:

  • Educational choices
  • Lifetime employment
  • A safe lifetime living environment
  • Legal issues
  • Access to health care
  • Access to government benefits
  • Access to social groups and fun
  • Management of finances

Priscilla Johnson has a Master of Arts degree in clinical psychology/mental health counseling. Priscilla has extensive experience in helping individuals with special needs, as well as families. In addition to her experience in couples and family counseling, Priscilla has worked in a variety of ways with individuals with special needs, including assisting in securing employment, engaging in social groups/activities for enjoyment and in life-skill development.

Jim Long and Philip McDowell are mediators at Heartland Family Mediators. Jim’s corporate experience in the financial services industry positions him as an excellent resource in helping people navigate the complexities of divorce. Philip McDowell is an attorney in private practice.  Philip can collaborate with experienced legal professionals in crafting strategies for the long-term safety, care and housing needs of the special child as well as the preparation of necessary legal documents. He also can help parents explore government services that can help them find peace knowing the needs of the special-needs child will not be met at the expense of their siblings.

Jim Johnson is also a mediator. In his practice as a financial advisor Jim assists parents in adopting economic strategies for protecting the future of the special-needs child. Jim uses time-tested tools that assure parents that they have answers to the most difficult questions face special needs parents: How will we take care of our child when we are old? How will we avoid depleting our assets and in effect disinherit our other children? Who will take care of our child when we are gone? – This planning can give parents peace and erase worry even in the challenging situation of divorce.

So where do you go from here?

If you want additional information about mediation or if you wish to schedule a free initial consultation with a Heartland Family Mediators professional, click the button to see if mediation as a solution can be in your future.