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Divorce and Special Education

Jim Gerl, at the Special Education Law Blog, has a recent post about a supposed 85 percent estimated divorce rate among parents of children with disabilities.

I've heard similar estimates before, but I've never been able to track down the research behind the claim. Others have raised the same question. I have no doubt that raising a child with a disability can put a unique strain on a couple. But there is some analysis that suggests that these children may not provoke the marriage-ending crisis that is popularly assumed. In 2004, Don Risdal and George H.S. Singer at the University of California, Santa Barbara, examined several research studies on marital satisfaction of families with and without children with disabilities. Part of their conclusions:

There is a detectable overall negative impact on marital adjustment, but this impact is small and much lower than would be expected given earlier assumptions about the
supposed inevitability of damaging impacts of children with disabilities on family well-being.

You can read the entire study here. (pdf)


There's no question that some families are truly struggling, even if the overall effect may be small. And, in a country where around about half of first marriages for people under age 45 end in divorce (according to this report (pdf) from the U.S. Census Bureau), it's a certainty that educators will be working with many single parents of children with disabilities.

The PACER Center, a Bloomington, Minn.-based organization that offers a wealth of information for parents of children with disabilities, has created a fact sheet (pdf) on educating children of divorced parents that has good information for teachers and administrators as well.

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