Divorce in Special Needs Families Part I

Divorce in Special Needs Families Part I

It is probably the most touted statistic you will hear, the increase of divorce in special needs families. For some reason your child’s doctor, or a school teacher or your best friend will feel the need to inform you divorce rates are higher among parents with special need children. The question is why and is there anything we can do to keep a focus on the vow, ‘till death do us part.

There are several theories on why special need parents are more likely to call it quits. Lets be honest, marriage in the best of circumstances is hard. Marriage means you have to give and take, share, consider the feeling of your partner, make life style and financial choices even without children in the picture. Add in children and your focus, values and finances can and do often change. Add in unexpected special needs, and wham, you have new issue you didn’t talk about while choosing names and car seats.

The splitting of a marriageAlienation. A new baby takes time and energy. A special needs child takes more time and energy than parent were expecting. Unlike a healthy normal baby who grows up and needs the parents less and less, the disabled child may never out grow that dependent need. One of the two partners may grow resentful and feel left out of any attention. Part of being a couple is spending time alone, dating if you will, and having at least a little time to work on the relationship. Families with special need children often find there is no time and no help to care for the child to give the parents a night off. Sometimes parents are forced to work shifts around a child, making time together almost impossible to find. Sadly self needs that one partner has may grow so strong they seek outside attention to fulfill a missing part of the marriage. This break down can lead to a divorce.

Money, do I need to say more? Disability is expensive, and new parents can find the budget they planned for the new addition will not cover half what the child requires. Many necessary services are not provided free of charge or covered by insurance. Even with insurance we have deductibles to meet, a percentage of bills to cover and transportation to pay for. Add to the factor that often one parent will need to stay at home to care for the child or cut back on working hours; this leaves the cash strapped parents in deeper debt than they bargained for. Some parents have actually chosen to divorce so they can apply for and receive government help that they do not qualify for if married. Still others fight over what the money should or should not be spent on to the point of driving them apart.

Loss of love rather than deepening of love. We expect to grow closer as we age and have that common bond experience of life together. Sadly when you add in a special needs child couples can change in attitude, needs, wants, dreams and goals. Often one of the two wanes in the love they feel for their partner. This can be due to one parents alienation of the other while caring for the child, and staying focused on the child so much they forget themselves or their partner. Constant fighting over care for the child, lack of help, and not enough money can cause parents to simply loose sight of the very things that brought them together to start with. One partner might simply wake up one day and say, I no longer love you anymore or I love you but I can’t do this anymore.

One of the parents may be a runner. This is a parent who simply cannot cope with the job of raising a special needs child, and bolts. While this is not the norm in most special need homes, it can and does happen. I spoke to a young Mother who said, “I really had plans for my life and kids where not in the picture. I didn’t plan on getting pregnant until I had completed graduate school if ever. My child was unplanned and add to it she was born with many physical issues and is mentally challenged. I find myself trapped in a life I did not plan for, don’t want and don’t know how to get out of. I know leaving is not the answer, but some days I want to drop her off a school and just drive off and never look back.” Her honesty was refreshing, and a cry for help from a could-be runner.

Are there other factors you’ve seen that contribute to divorce in special needs families? If so, tell us. Part Two of this series comes next week.  Be sure to subscribe to keep up with the latest.

About the Author:

Cheryl Bailey
Cheryl Bailey is a freelance/ghost writer who lives North Mississippi. She is the mom of two grown sons the youngest was disabled after a vaccine injury left him without any physical skills or speech. Cheryl now works to advocate for all persons of disability, and frequently writes about life with John, subject of A View in the Mirror. Her other passions include sewing, gardening, and spending time her dog Cindy and any stray cats that choose to call her back porch home. When not working as an advocate for persons with disabilities, she can be found working for Soldiers Angels in support of our troops.


  1. Carl Young (@whynotfathers) April 4, 2013 at 1:23 pm - Reply

    Marriage is tough under the best circumstances. Having a child with Special Healthcare needs just adds to the relationship in ways that neither partner anticipated. It isn’t like we took classes in parenting Special Health Care Needs children while we were in school.

    I wrote an article last month on Marriage Survival.

  2. Cheryl
    Cheryl April 7, 2013 at 10:46 am - Reply

    Thank Carl…off to read you take on things!

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