The Unfortunate Reality of Divorce in Couples with a Child with Special Needs


Every relationship is hard, and the challenges of co-parenting can increase the amount of stress on a marriage. When a child has special needs, like Cerebral Palsy, additional issues can arise out of whom primarily carries the burden and the different ways each parent handles the emotions involved. It is a sad truth that couples of children with special needs face a much higher divorce rate than the rest of the married population. While the exact rate still appears to be unclear, it’s an important topic that we felt needs to be addressed.

Divorce in Families with a Child with Special Needs

First, no child with special needs is responsible for a marriage dissolving. Every parent enters a marriage trying their best and doing what they can for their family and partner. The unfortunate correlation between a child with special needs and a marriage, though, is that the amount of participation from each parent can vary based upon how they are handling the issue emotionally. Tragically, there is a high rate of men who simply focus on work while leaving a mother to raise the child at home, creating a distance. This is not true for all fathers. However, far too often we receive phone calls from mothers who find themselves addressing their child’s needs on their own, either due to divorce or simple emotional distance.

There is no simple fix for this. While it is positive to hear that an oft-cited report that 80% of parents of a child with autism get divorced has been since debunked, there does exist a gap between marriage success of parents who do and do not face challenges with their child’s development. On the issue of the autism spectrum disorder, the numbers were re-examined in a different study that found a 10% increase in the chance of parents getting divorced if their child was diagnosed. While this is not the 80% more likely, it’s still a disappointment.

A Huffington Post article on the idea of beating the odds of divorce when your child has special needs suggests the following can be important:

  • Increased availability in services available to parents
  • Coordination in how parents address/manage a child’s emotional challenges
  • The age of the child in any given year (parents of a child on the spectrum faced almost no risk of divorce once the child was 30)

While a child with autism faces much different challenges than a child with Cerebral Palsy (and some children can have both conditions), we feel these numbers are reflective of the overall concept of parents feeling taxed by more unique challenges than a parent of a child not living with lifelong challenges. Parents able to forge a partnership within their marriage in terms of how they deal with and share the tasks associated with their child will undoubtedly fare better than those who attempt to do so independently. Seeking to avoid blaming each other is a critical part of finding success in any marriage.

(Check out this video series on 20 Relationship Tips for Parents of a Child with Special Needs)



Get Connected with Free Resources… Today!

As noted in the above article, the access to resources can be an important part in helping parents to address their child’s needs. While we would never claim that our library of free resources will keep a marriage together, we do know that it can greatly impact the happiness and development of children with Cerebral Palsy, while easing the burden on the parent(s). Access to programs, whether early intervention or adaptive equipment, financial assistance, etc., can open up all new help and aid that you may not have realized.

For free resources to help a child with Cerebral Palsy, please call us at (800) 692-4453 today!