Daniel J Vance

Over the last year, I’ve been attending graduate school and looking at research on the effect a child with a disability has on marital and family stability. From it, I’ve learned that many nonprofit organizations have been reporting divorce rates ranging from 75-85 percent among married couples raising a child with a disability. But not one of the organizations had cited any research to support their claims.

To me, that rate seemed inaccurate and way too high. So I looked into the research myself and what I discovered really surprised me.

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It is an extremely important issue. For one, if told early in her pregnancy that her unborn child has a disability, and told of a 75-85 percent divorce rate, a married woman might be prone to give her child up for adoption or have an abortion. If the disability is discovered after the child’s birth and the marriage is already on shaky ground, the couple might lose all hope.

When parents divorce, a child with a disability acquires a lifelong double whammy, namely, not only having to cope with a disability, but also with the emotional fallout from divorced parents and possibly feeling as if they were the cause. About three million married Americans have a child with a disability.

The research I found indeed confirmed the “75-85 percent” figure was too high. In fact, some of the research indicated that the divorce rate among couples having children with certain disabilities was actually lower than the national average.

Take Down syndrome, for example. A Tennessee-wide study of children born from 1990-2002 found the divorce rate in marriages involving a child with Down syndrome was 33 percent lower than in marriages not having a disabled child.

But that was more an exception. Most research revealed slightly higher divorce rates than average, but nothing resembling 75-85 percent. What most surprised me was uncovering so much research on couples reporting stronger marriages due to having a child with a disability.

For the most part, American society no longer views the presence of a child with a disability as a family tragedy. Over the last 30 years, great strides have been made in healthcare, education and employment for people with disabilities. If you have just learned your child has a disability, you can take hope. Millions of Americans are in your shoes. You can get through it.

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