According to a CDC article dated April 27, 2018, one out of every 59 children has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Caring for an autistic child is stressful on a family and not unexpectedly, the divorce rate for couples with an autistic child is higher than normal.

Having a contentious divorce and disagreeing on just about everything is especially damaging to a child on the spectrum. Precious time that should be spent focusing on the special needs of the child is wasted when parents go to court over custody and care for an autistic child.

Special considerations must be taken when parents of a child on the spectrum decide to divorce. Here are some considerations that top the list:

  1. Both parents need to accept that their child actually has autism. Surprisingly, one parent might just think their child is “just a little different” and “will grow out of it.” Studies show that early diagnosis and intervention is vital to an autistic child’s development toward behavioral improvement and hopefully independent living. NOW is the time to put the question of whether or not the child is on the spectrum to rest because not only will this have an effect on the child’s development, this will have an impact on child support, spousal support and child custody.

  2. While all children benefit from a consistent daily life, it is critically important that autistic children have consistency with regard to the therapeutic approach and in their everyday life because to not do so may result in stagnation or even regression in that child’s development.

  3. Assuming both parents are on board with the care their child needs and recognizing both parents have a right to spend time with their child, putting the child’s needs first may mean something other than equal parenting time. The parenting schedule between homes logically requires consideration of some reasonable flexibility or adjustment to a therapeutic schedule that has been in place for the child. However, a parenting schedule should not unduly or unreasonably interfere with the general ability of the child to attend a regular consistent schedule of behavioral therapy that is reinforced consistently in both homes.

  4. Both parents will need to attend regular and ongoing training about the care and schedule of their child and will need to regularly communicate with each other to maintain consistency for the child. Although work schedules may not always allow for this, when possible, both parents should be simultaneously receiving the same information, advice, input and feedback from any of the child’s treating professionals (therapists, teachers, etc.), so that the parents are on the same page in providing a consistent program to enhance the child’s potential progress.

  5. While federal law requires public schools to provide for the special therapeutic training for children on the spectrum, there are still costs related to the care and behavioral therapy of an autistic child that will add to the ordinary expenses of caring for any child and these additional expenses need to be examined during the separation process. In addition, one parent may not be able to work full time, or at all, because of the schedule and needs of the child. It will be especially important to get a realistic idea of the present and potential future costs of caring for the child. A Certified Divorce Financial Analyst and mediator like myself can help both parents understand this painful reality and help work out budgets and child support needs.

  6. Life and disability insurance is especially important so that the needs of the child can continue to be taken care of in the case of death or disability. However, proceeds from an insurance policy could interfere with the child’s eligibility for public assistance so the parent’s will need to create a special needs trust for that eventuality.