Divorce and the Special Needs Child

Governor Sarah Palin proudly displays her son Trig, who has down syndrome. She vows to help other families with special needs children if she is elected to the Oval Office.
The sad truth is that in New York as well as the rest of the country, families with special needs children have a higher incidence of divorce than families with “normal” kids. The reason for this is probably because special needs children need special care giving and the burden for providing this care-giving usually falls on one party more than the other, creating inequities in an already difficult familial situation.
It is a very stressful thing. Both parents often start to blame the other: This is your fault. If you hadn’t used drugs, if you did this, if you did that, the child would be “normal.” The fact that nobody has really proven exactly what causes down syndrome and autism and other “special needs” situations is beside the point. Usually in a marriage, this situation triggers a blame response, anger, frustration adn resentment.
What ends up happening is that the care-giver of the child – the parent who is mostly responsible for the child’s care – usually the mother, feels emotionally abandonned. They feel as if their spouse has emotionally abandonned the family. Then the marriage starts to break down.
Once a divorce ensues, the question becomes how to care for the child post-divorce. Obviously the laws are going to be the same as far as the non-custodial parent providing child support to the custodial parent, to the extent that his or her income allows.
Beyond that, it is unlikely that the non-custodial parent can be forced to interact with the child more than he or she chooses to. After the divorce, the custodial parent may find that the non-custodial parent slowly disappears, or plays a much reduced role in the life of the child.
This can add sadness and disappointment to the mix. But you can’t force someone to play a role in a child’s life. The only thing the law can do is force the non-custodial parent to pay child support.