Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Sad Intersection of Divorce and Special Education

I just learned that it is estimated that divorce among parents of children with severe disabilities is above 85%. This makes me very sad.

I suppose that it is not surprising that the divorce rate is so high. The general rate of divorce for marriages in the United States is about 50%. If you add to that the extreme stress and expense of having a child with a severe disability, it stands to reason that the rate of divorce would be much higher.
Here are a couple of articles that were given to me by a special education professor whom I just met at the conference of the Council for Exceptional Children in Boston last week. Please let me know if you have additional information on this topic:
In addition to the obvious societal concerns, there are legal issues resulting from this stunning fact. The entire rationale of the procedural safeguards component of the IDEA is that parents will assert the rights of a child with a disability. Thus, for example, when a due process complaint is filed, the hearing officer may need to ensure that the parent with the right to make educational decisions for the child is the one who filed. At earlier stages, school districts must ensure that they try to involve both parents in the process but turn to the one with authority at times of decision. The definition of "parent" has been expanded by IDEA'04. IDEA Section 602 (23); 34 CFR Section 300.30. Nonetheless, caution is advised.
The unfortunate intersection of family law and special education law may be more complicated than I had realized.


  1. I find that the day-to-day dealings with schools and CSEs falls mostly to the mothers of special needs children. I am not slamming fathers, but typically, fathers are not as informed or invested emotionally in the quagmire that is the special ed process.

    Many more decisions need to be made with an IEP student and sometimes husband-wife don't always agree with the course of action that should be taken. Yet, in the meetings, parents must show a united front with school personnel.

    In my small circle, dads typically ride in for the CSE meeting to "look handsome and intimidating," but it is the mother who has been doing the legwork prior to the meetings and who is "the authority."

    I'm surprised the rate is not higher that 85%.

  2. thanks for the comment Splogger. It may be higher than 85%; what I'm hearing is at least that much.


  3. After six years of non-stop struggles with our school system to ensure even the minimal, relevant support for our gifted/LD child, my husband and I can not discuss this issue without coming to major disagreement. Mostly we don't see eye to eye on whether or not it is worth it to continue to try to obtain some small degree of satisfaction from the district in what they are willing to provide to our son or son other child in the future.
    Has anyone else considered that this "divide and conquer" strategy is exactly what would make parents shut up and go away-the system's greatest desire?

  4. I don't think that school districts intentionally follow such strategies, but thanks for your thoughts Anon.


  5. Paternity and children with disabilities gets things worse that it was before, because what can we do in a delicate situation like this?