Do Parents’ Divorce Adversely Affect Kids With Disabilities More Than Other Kids?

Divorce is a struggle for most families and it can be especially difficult for children to understand why it sometimes is the very best option for parents — and studies show that it is. Most parents who stay together simply for the sake of their kids seem to do more harm than good. But is the same true for kids who grow up with behavioral disorders or disabilities? Do divorcing parents adversely affect their kids with disabilities more than other kids?

The question has been asked in the wake of Todd and Sarah Palin’s likely upcoming divorce, and experts are calling out those who would spread certain myths.

A young divorce attorney named Miranda gives parents a bit of advice: “There’s no statistically relevant empirical data proving that a child with autism cannot have two happily married parents. The idea that parents with a child on the spectrum cannot stay married is simply untrue.” 

She continues, “Parents who are suffering difficulties with their kids or in their marriage should take the same steps as anyone else — it might be time for counseling. Separation or divorce is always a last resort for parents who want to do best by their children; sadly, sometimes divorce is the only thing that makes sense, and it’s important to acknowledge that reality too.” 

That said, the rumor that children with disabilities are more likely to have unhappy or divorced parents is rooted in a concept known as “ableism” which simply posits that fewer disabilities and more conformity mean a better life for everyone. Experts are quick to point out that such a narrow-minded set of beliefs can cause otherwise good parents to become unhappy or divorce out of a sort of self-fulfilled prophecy.

Divorce in some cases is worse for disabled kids than those who live without disability. 

According to the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study published by the National Institute of Health (NIH), “divorce rates were not elevated, on average, in families with a child with developmental disabilities. However, in small families, there was a significantly higher risk of divorce relative to a normative comparison group.”

But part of the reason is because parents struggle to understand the basic needs of their kids. Understanding and meeting those needs is crucial to a healthy transition. Maintaining a strong bond between a child and both the child’s parents is equally important, and both homes must be safe, stable places for the child to visit if custody is shared.

In addition, it’s important for parents to keep asking questions. The child’s wishes are important to creating the stable environment necessary.