Divorce and Autism; negotiating a divorce or separation when one partner is autistic

Divorce or separation affects almost 50% of families in the UK each year. Relationships can be hard for everyone but if one or another partner is autistic, it can throw up additional problems. For the non-autistic partner, it may be hard negotiating these difficult times or the process of a divorce or separation. The autistic person will need additional support to navigate the process. There are over 700,000 adults and children with autism in the UK. Being autistic or having an autistic partner or spouse can be really positive but may also be complicated at times. The world can be a confusing place for autistic people, who may communicate differently, find social interaction difficult or stressful, and experience sensory issues.

 If you're autistic, you may find it difficult to express your feelings, needs, or desires to your family members or partner. You may feel that you are misunderstood. For a spouse or partner, it can be difficult to know how to support their autistic family member or partner particularly if it starts to impact negatively on any children from the relationship.

There are many factors that can put a strain on a relationship or marriage when one or other partner has ADHD.  
Below are some of the most common ones:
#1 Punctuality
Timekeeping can often be a problem and can cause arguments. Why not set alarms or reminders for important events or activities to reduce the stress levels?
#2 Emotional Connection
Those with ADHD can often find it hard to connect on a deep emotional level or may at times seem distant. Their partners can read this as being disinterested or cool when in fact it is symptomatic.  Why not try to bring yourself back into the moment or think about things from your partner’s perspective?
#3 Communication
Communication is so important in a healthy relationship and even more so in one that is on rough ground. Try to listen to each other and to acknowledge what the other is saying, particularly in discussions.  Give each other the opportunity to have your say.
#4 Staying calm
ADHD can affect emotions and the swing from highs to lows can be exhausting for partners. Every partner needs to feel secure in the relationship so try to bring a sense of calm to everyday situations. If it feels like the temperature is rising, then take a bit of time out to manage the anger or frustration. This will enable you both to continue the conversation in a more positive way.
If, however, there is no chance of saving the relationship then you may decide to issue legal proceedings relating to divorce, finances and/or children and autism could, if you’re not careful, make the case more complicated and expensive if not handled sensitively. 
It’s even more important to approach a divorce or separation carefully if there are autistic or neurodivergent children involved or if your partner or spouse hasn’t been formally diagnosed but exhibits autistic behaviour. It can lead to unexpected behaviour from your children or partner. 
Ultimately, the law relating to divorce, finances and children is the same no matter what behaviour your other half exhibits but it’s vitally important to plan as it can be more difficult to predict the reactions from an autistic spouse which in turn may result in a potentially straightforward divorce/negotiations turning into something more complicated. 
Every divorce case is different just like every autistic person or child is different so take advice early on before taking the first step to end a relationship or marriage as it could make all the difference in your “divorce journey”.
Top Tips when dealing with an autistic partner: 
#1 Share 
Share the specific autistic traits of your partner with your lawyer. This will enable him/her to implement a practical tailored approach to the case. Remember that in many ways the law is the easy bit in divorce
#2 Think 
Think about your partner’s preferred method of communication and if possible, how they like to “negotiate”
#3 Predict
Think about how you can stay one step ahead in the process so that you can where possible predict a response but manage it in a productive rather than destructive way
#4 Accept
If your partner has often seemed unsympathetic or uncaring during the marriage due to their autism don’t expect it to be any different when dealing with them through divorce proceedings. However, always bear in mind that you may be surprised at their reaction. What is logical to you may not be the same for your partner
#5 Prepare
Be prepared to issue court proceedings if you can’t make headway in financial or child arrangements negotiations. Whilst costs will increase if you head to court this may not matter to your partner who may value their view that they are right, and you are wrong as taking precedence over the benefits of compromise and the “costs versus benefit” approach to their case.
Alison Whistler has worked with many clients over the years where autism has been a factor, either with the client, their ex-partner, or their child(ren). Her understanding of autism has helped steer the case towards the most cost-effective and family focussed outcome whether that’s agreeing or applying for a child arrangement order or resolving divorce and financial settlements. When it’s so easy to generalise with clients over procedures and outcomes she tailors an approach based upon the specific autistic traits of the individual(s) involved.
If you are experiencing difficulties in your relationship, then it’s always worth seeking help and support from organisations like RELATE or the National Autistic Society.

Alison Whistler Solicitor

  If you want advice on domestic abuse or other family matters, then get in touch with our friendly Family Law team on 01635 580858.

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