Divorce with an Autistic Child: Custody, Child Support & Single Parent Challenges


divorce with an autistic child
Divorce with an autistic child?

What are the Custody and Support issues for people who are divorcing with an autistic child?

The number of people who divorce with an autistic child each year is quite numerous. The divorce rate for parents with an autistic child has been described as “terrifyingly high” by one blogger who put the rate at 90 percent! Is this an accurate statistic? It depends on who you talk to. The figures fluctuate wildly depending on the source.

(#divorce with an autistic child)

The good news is that there are those couples, albeit only 10 percent if you believe those stats (as I said there is heavy dispute as to the accuracy of those unsubstantiated statistics that put the rate at 90 percent) whose marriages actually get STRONGER on account of having a child with autism.

But what happens to those families whose marriages don’t survive? I decided to look at three issues impacting couples with an autistic child who divorce:

Single Parent

Autistic children are more likely to be living in a single parent home that neurologically normal children.  This has not been scientifically demonstrated but it sounds about right. If a child is autistic, it seems to increase the likelihood that he or she will be living with just one parent rather than two.
Autism is a challenging syndrome and not everyone is cut out to handle dealing with a child with this syndrome. A lot of single parents with autistic children can be found on many forum on the web talking about their struggles, feelings of isolation and general joys and frustrations about raising their child alone. Check out this link for example.


What about divorce? Do divorcing parents typically have drag out custody battles for custody of their autistic child? Based on my observations,  parents don’t seem to battle so much for custody of the autistic child as hard as they battle for neurotypical children. Quite the opposite. There is usually the main caregiver parent – usually the mother – who will get custody, unchallenged by the other side for custody but usually possibly battling over the amount of support. Usually is the operative word as there are many exceptions. But it is rather peculiar how that is but you don’t hear of parents fighting for custody of a child with autism. They may fight over ancillary issues relating to custody (like support) but not for custody itself.

With that said, if indeed there is a custody battle (and sometimes there is) according to psychology.com, many issues concerning special needs children are not adequately taken into account and this can damage the child. Here is an excerpt from an article on Psychology.com:

In most child custody cases of neurotypical children, structure and routine are emphasized as good child-rearing skills. So when a parent of a child with autism states that the need for routine and structure is extremly  important for their child, it is assumed by the Family Court System that the need is not any greater than for a typical child. But those of us who work in the field of autism know that it is  drastically different than the need of routine and structure for a neurotypical child. Moreover the difficulty of transitioning – ie from one parent or one home to another- is not understood.

Again, it appears that it is usually the mother who is advocating for the autistic child and it is usually the mother who will wind up the main custodial parent. But it should be noted that there are a lot of fathers living with and caring for their autistic children and that many do fight for custody of their children. For example, I have found a few on the Internet just from a quick browse just now that include autism daddy (he is still married to wifey though).
Be that as it may, the parent who is fighting for custody will probably need the assistance of expert witnesses who can help the court make informed decisions about how the autistic child will be cared for post divorce.

A joint custody situation where the autistic child is being shuffled between various homes of his or her divorced parents may not be in the child’s best interest at all.

Child support

While you won’t find a lot of parents fighting for custody of a child with autism, you will find many fighting over support issues. Children with special needs, like autism, tend to require more financial resources for a longer period of time than other children. This is a situation that lends itself to great conflict between former spouses.
One solution might be to set up a “special needs trust” for the child and/or consider getting an insurance policy as well.