A recent study by researcher Brian Freedman has debunked the myth showing parents with autistic children have a divorce rate of 80%. In fact, the study demonstrated:
“There really weren’t any significant differences in terms of family structure when you consider children with autism and those without,” says study researcher Brian Freedman, PhD, clinical director of the Center for Autism and Related Disorders at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore.
This is a positive finding for parents with an autistic child. However the reality is that divorce affects about one out of every two families. How can these families with special needs children divorce in a manner that meets their child’s emotional, physical and spiritual needs?
As a Chicago family law attorney who has worked with families in this situation, and father of an autistic son, I recommend parents look to the collaborative divorce process, an approach that puts the needs of children first.
Parents of a special needs child can appreciate the chaos and adversity their child already faces in their day to day lives. A pending separation or divorce can just add to that. By definition the collaborative process is going to be better able to cater to the unique issues when you have a child with disability.
Collaborative law or collaborative divorce offers families an alternative to resolve disputes with privacy, respect and minimal court involvement, while taking into account the highest priorities of their entire family. A team of specially trained interdisciplinary professionals guide and support parties in a problem solving process, not as adversaries.
In traditional divorce litigation, the parties look to the court system and judges to resolve their dispute in a very public forum, each viewing the other as the adversary. This process often results in considerable emotional and financial cost to the entire family and may not provide the best outcome for the child with special needs.
Studies have shown “how” a couple divorces has far greater impact on their children than the actual separation. Yet the reality is that people do get caught up in the emotionality of the divorce: the anger, hate and fear. It is easy to fall into bitterness, and then choose the path to litigation. Oftentimes, people are more interested in being right as opposed to looking for commonality in resolution that would be ultimately more beneficial to the child and the parents.
Finding a family law professional with a background in special needs certainly can be a blessing, but even more so important is finding a professional who can utilize the resources of a team to achieve the best possible outcome and help parents to focus on what is most important.