Divorce, Custody Agreements, and Autism

I see other women, just like me, every single trip.

They are trying to smile, encouraging their little ones, telling them what a good time they are going to have for the week.

They are managing meltdowns, trying to distract, and gulping down coffee before the early flight.

Later, they sit alone waiting for the next flight home – tired, in tears and just looking defeated.

The calendar family courts use to set visitation schedules is basically the same. Holiday weekends, Christmas Break, Spring Break – you can find me and mom’s just like me, with children just like mine,  taking one way flights, handing them over to their dads along with instructions for medications, sleep issues, new eating schedules and what to do when he stims. Then we kill time in the airport, waiting for the flight back home.

It says in the Bible that God hates divorce – I do too.

It is soul damaging and shame inducing and exhausting and broken and dark and dirty, but sometimes it is what God has planned for you.

Sometimes, it is what God has planned for your children.


I will never publicly discuss what happened in my marriage to the boys’ dad, because I just don’t think it’s fair to my boys. (Suffice to say, there were layers and layers of sin all over the place in a marriage that began with  two unbelievers and ended with one.)

And I will never, ever write about this in a light hearted, no big deal if it doesn’t work out and you’re unhappy just move on kind of way.

No matter what the world tells us – it’s just not true.

Divorce, custody, visitation, decision making percentages, child support – these words are cold and ugly.

To put it bluntly, these words create their own set of special needs, for any child.

Add to it sensory processing issues, delayed social functioning, and a significant need for predictability where there is none, and you have a child who struggles and is in real pain because of poor decisions his momma made almost 20 years ago.

It scares me that it is so hard sometimes, and there is no way to take it back or make it less messy.

I would like to say that it gets easier. But in the four years since we moved out of state, it hasn’t.

I would like to say that it has worked out well for the boys – that they have adapted to the schedule changes and the food changes and the frequent travel and the different beds for a week. They haven’t.

So often, we talk about divorce and we talk about autism. But even though the divorce rate for parents of children diagnosed with ASD hovers between 65-80%, we very rarely talk about divorce and autism.

The two exist together, in 65-80% of families in situations just like ours.

Divorce and custody agreements and autism – they all happen at the same time.

So when I glimpse the other mommas in the airport this holiday season, doing their best to keep it all together, I will pray for their comfort and strength as well as my own.  I will pray for their children, and for my boys.

I will pray that we all remember there is radical grace and forgiveness, and that shame does not become the hallmark of our motherhood. I will pray for us to feel a little less alone – after all, we are part of 65-80%. We are not alone at all. I will pray that more options and more resources be made available for the children caught in this web of crazy.

Divorce doesn’t define our families. Neither does autism.

Love does.


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  1. Mama Grace says:

    In tears here, Shawna. I am separated from my husband because of domestic violence, and preparing to file for divorce. I still have school age children at home. I am only home schooling the youngest, whom I suspect has ADD and anxiety issues. Two of the others have been diagnosed with life-altering neural disorders, and some of my children have had severe depressive episodes. The stress is sometimes unbearable. Fortunately, they seem to be coping well enough with the separation, and I honestly don’t think the custody thing will be much different than what we have now. I don’t know why I’m telling you this, except to say thanks for writing. I found you via Simple Homeschool’s Weekend Links.

    1. Oh my goodness, my heart aches for you. The stress you are under is immense and so, so much. Please take care of yourself, so that you can care for you little ones.
      I am praying right this minute for you and yours!

  2. Shawna..you are not alone. I have one boy with Mild Autism and I got divorce two years ago. It was not easy the processes and now I am working with my son with his behaviors and issuses living in diferent houses. It is no easy for me either for my son because when goes with his Dad he has everything. Even my son get everything for him I need to be strong and hunddle the situation. Mothers we have the power and capacity to give support and be patient…so take care yourself because when you are ok and happy you give love to them and hapiness.

    1. Thank you so much! The divorce piece in all of this is not something we talk about very much, but it is a very real part of our life. I appreciate so much your kind words and understanding.
      Praying for you and yours this morning.

  3. I understand the significant stress of sending kids off to unknown situations, for both them and me. My kids don’t have autism, but these situations are enough to produce anxiety in everyone. I am new to living out this divorced life and I hate hearing of the yelling and manipulation that occurs when I am not there. I feel guilty because I get to be out of those situations now and they do not. My kids also hate change and it takes several days to readjust or process everything when they get home. I say this because I cannot imagine the struggle of doing all of it with children who have such significant needs (schedules, medication, behavior plans, food requirements, etc.) God bless you and all mama’s doing the best they can for their kiddos. We give everything to these little people hoping they become the best big people they can be. Sometimes life throws a major wrench in that and it’s not pretty, but we still move forward. We have hope because we have grace.

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