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How does divorce affect children with special needs?

While the effects of divorce can impact families in a variety of ways, those who have children with special needs may experience these issues differently. Depending on the disability of the child or children in question, divorcing parents may have a variety of concerns.

The Autism Community in Action notes that state and federal budget cuts may change benefits for a child with special needs at one time or another, so parents who request support may want to create an agreement with their ex-spouse that covers not only the present but also the future, and this is only one issue that may affect special-needs children whose parents decide to divorce.

Payment for private schools

Many children with special needs attend private schools where teachers can spend more time addressing their disabilities and education. Sometimes, a divorce can affect their ability to attend, especially when one parent cannot afford the cost of tuition as part of the divorce settlement agreement. Parents can support and encourage their children by agreeing to split the cost instead of sending their children to public school, where educators may not meet their needs.


Children who have special needs due to a mental illness may experience a tougher time coping with a divorce and the changes that come with it. Co-parenting in separate households, for example, may disrupt a child who relies on a routine to cope with the symptoms of that illness. Divorcing couples may want to consider nesting, or allowing the child to live in an environment that supports routine while the parents rotate in and out of the house, rather than moving the child back and forth.

Parents of special-needs children may also want to draw up an agreement that discusses any medical needs of that child, present or future, so in case of an emergency, neither parent has doubts about who stands responsible for the bills.