Parents with disabled children don’t have higher divorce rate

California parents of disabled children have long been believed to experience a higher divorce rate than parents who have developmentally typical children, but just how true is that notion? Over 50 years ago a group of researchers set out to determine if having a disabled child actually had any type of significant impact on divorce rates. With the conclusion finally available, the results might come as a surprise to some.

Over 10,000 women and men were followed from their teenage years up into their mid-60s. The longevity of the study was especially important to researchers as the impact of having a disabled child is long-term. At least 190 couples ended up having children with some type of disabilities, many of which included Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism and more general intellectual disabilities.

Perhaps one of the most surprising discoveries of the study was that having additional children did not impact divorce rates for parents who already had at least one disabled child. In contrast, parents of developmentally normal children had the lowest rate of divorce when they only had one child, and then the rate increased every time that another child was born. Researchers concluded that, instead of adding stress, additional children born into families with disabled children helped create added support for the parents and their sibling.

Although the reasons behind divorce and their respective rates for different groups might vary, California parents facing the end of a marriage still need to address most of the same issues. Child custody agreements are an integral part of the divorce process, and many family law judges will not finalize a divorce if custody arrangements have not been made and agreed upon. In the event that parents are unable to reach an agreement on their own or through alternative dispute resolution options like mediation, the final decision might rest with the judge, who will determine a custody plan that is in the best interests of the child.

Source:, “Divorce Risk Not Higher in Couples With Disabled Kids