Divorce on the Table, Disabled Child, Many Questions
January 24, 2017 6:11 AM   Subscribe

I love my husband. We have a child with multiple disabilities. This was a struggle for my husband to accept when he was young (insisting the diagnosis was wrong), but he eventually did. It was fine when child was small, but now that child is getting older, husband is increasingly frustrated with his abnormal development and behavior. I think I may need to divorce him for the sake of my child. Specific questions, etc.

My children adore their father, and he is mostly a good dad, although more short-tempered than I am with childhood misbehavior. The problem is with our disabled child. More and more often, husband is inappropriately punitive with disability-related misbehavior. He also has begun to say "If we just gave him more independence, more responsibility, he'd step up," and then leaves our disabled child unsupervised. It's gotten to the point where I feel like I can't leave our disabled child alone with him (like to go get a haircut) because he'll leave him unsupervised. When our disabled child was small and needed protection, husband did well. But now that he's older, husband just seems constantly frustrated that disabled child isn't normal enough, and parents as if he had a different child, not the child we actually have. I can't abide him rebuking our child for disability-related behavior, which more and more means I can't abide him, at all.

I am 80% sure we need to get divorced at this point (which I don't want to do, but my children need me more than he does). I am having trouble taking the step, my big question is custody:

1) I understand it's hard for a parent to get full custody these days. Staying married and being perpetually stuck at home because I can't safely leave the kids with him, and watching him be a jerk to disabled child, is shitty. But from everything I have heard, it's almost impossible to get sole physical custody these days, and the thought of leaving the kids alone with him, for him to leave them inappropriately unsupervised, is even worse. (For a variety of reasons, including spouse's untreated mental illness, I do not believe it is possible for him to safely supervise the children alone; he definitely cannot safely supervise the disabled child, as he believes as a matter of principle that adjusting to the disability is "coddling" and he won't do it.) At least married I can stay always involved; divorced, I couldn't insert myself between him and the children. What are my chances of sole custody? Or supervised visitation? I'm also terrified of the thought of rolling the dice on a judge who's probably older and may have similarly old-fashioned ideas about disability.

2) My evidence is mostly me observing my husband. From time to time I have spoken privately to medical providers, making clear that whatever intervention we were planning for disabled child would have to be doable by me alone, as husband could not be counted on to engage in the intervention reliably. But I don't know if they're allowed to talk about that in court, and I don't know if it would matter; 90% of my evidence is my testimony about my spouse's problems parenting. That's not so great, right? I have hidden our problems from family and friends, although at least a few suspect.

3) All my kids LOVE their dad, and he could mostly safely parent our non-disabled children. (Like there would be periodic ER visits because his supervision isn't close enough and he's easily distracted/bored when watching the kids, but it's within the bounds of social acceptability.) Would a court allow him greater access to our non-disabled children and restricted access to our disabled one? Or would a court award the same custody to all children? It seems terrifically unfair to let some of my kids see him while my disabled child is kept from him, but I could probably live with it because at least they'd be safe (enough). But I'd much rather they all have the same arrangement. But if the "same arrangement" is his free access to all our kids, including the disabled one, I'd rather stay married and be miserable than put my kid at risk.

We have discussed divorce a few times, and husband adamantly does not want to get divorced. He also does not believe he needs treatment for his mental illness, which has impacted his work and social life. He goes back and forth between being on board with disabled child's treatment, and thinking the doctors/therapists/teachers are full of shit. We have been to marital therapy and family therapy; husband often agrees that changes need to be made but can't sustain them, or agrees in the session but announces the therapist is full of shit as soon as we leave. (We've been at the ultimatum line for the last several months -- "get your shit together or we are done" -- and I feel I'm at the point where I have to make a decision to follow through, or to deal with it. At this point, assume he won't or can't change.)

He is a person who likes to win; we get along okay unhappily married, but if I actually pursue a divorce, he will go scorched earth, and screwing me will be as important a goal as our children's happiness. It will be very difficult to maintain a cordial relationship in any form. He presents well in professional situations so I assume he would present well in court. Economically he is the much larger earner and a divorce would be difficult in that way, but I am confident my family would help me out. (I assume with time and work I could raise my earning power; however, I would also be the single parent of a disabled child who needs a lot of care, so it would be difficult.)

My #1 priority is the physical safety of my disabled child (and the physical safety of my other kids, but I don't feel they're at much risk). #2 is the emotional health of all my children. A distant #3 is my happiness. I am miserable. But I would rather be miserable and have safe children than be happy and have unsafe children, if you see what I mean.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
All of these are tough questions and it sounds like you need to have a conversation with a lawyer before you do anything else. They should be able to give you some clarity, or refer you to someone who can.

This article is a few years old now, but it describes options when there's a divorce with disabled children involved and different expectations on the parts of both parents:

In some families, parents do not agree about how to address the unique needs of a child with a disability. Sometimes, one parent may be in denial about the existence of a disability or may not agree with the other parent regarding the best approach needed to care for or seek appropriate supports and services to meet the needs of that child. In those cases, lawyers should consider engaging neutral professionals who can guide the decision-making process and offer alternative solutions to “typical” visitation arrangements. Professionals may also make suggestions about how to obtain consensus regarding any care or treatment the child may need.

It sounds like this is a situation other people have had to deal with in the past, and that there's protocol for it that goes beyond your word vs his word, but I don't think you're going to get a lot of useful or specific information until you speak to a lawyer yourself.
posted by terretu at 6:17 AM on January 24, 2017 [5 favorites]

Seconding "Get a lawyer."

The most helpful piece of advice I got during my divorce was "Someone else has gone through this; there is precedent." A good family lawyer will either have had a case much like this or know someone who has. If the first one you talk to doesn't seem to have a good handle on it, talk to another one.
posted by Etrigan at 6:22 AM on January 24, 2017 [8 favorites]

I worked for many years with people with developmental disabilities and saw families torn apart in the same way it appears that your family is being torn apart. Based on that experience, I would suggest you consider a couple things -

- You say your disabled child your number one priority. But really, all your children are equally important. Have you maybe let the needs of the disabled child trump all other needs to the point where your family system is off kilter?

- Okay, so your husband is a jerk when it comes to your disabled child. But if he is a good dad in other ways, perhaps each of you can contribute to the family, but contribute in different ways instead of expecting your husband to have the same level of tolerance and compassion that you have toward your disabled child. He can't watch your disabled son. Can you get respite care so you can get a hair cut? Partner with another friend who has a disabled child and trade babysitting responsibilities?

In several years, your disabled child will be an adult and may live elsewhere, may have a more independent life. Please think about finding other less-permanent solutions to what is, in fact, a temporary problem. Have you considered going to counseling with someone with expertise working with families that have disabled children? It might be worth a look. Families that have a disabled child in them have unique stressors and counseling may help you to understand those better.
posted by eleslie at 6:28 AM on January 24, 2017 [32 favorites]

I've watched a couple of friends go through divorce recently, and one thing I've come to understand is that it will take a LOT for the court to deny one parent custody entirely. While I understand and believe you about his parenting being a serious danger to your child, the court will likely not see it the same way, it will be seen as an issue of parenting styles rather than actual danger to the child (unless you can demonstrate something beyond "child gets left unsupervised"--has the child been harmed in any of these situations? That matters. This doesn't feel subjective to you, but it will seem subjective to the court).

But man, I am so far from an expert, I agree that you need to lawyer up, and I have to imagine a divorce is better than not with a guy like that.
posted by hought20 at 6:34 AM on January 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

Nthing talk to a lawyer.

But as a person who had full custody of two kids after a divorce from a less-than-cooperative, less-than-ideal other parent (understatement), I can tell you that divorce will not solve the problem you have described. You will still be the only one *ever* to care for your child. You will have *less* control over what happens when your children are with their other parent. You will have *zero* control over - or even awareness of - other adults who may come in and out of your children's lives.

You will still never go get haircuts, and you will now have to figure out lawyer meetings and court dates too. Plus the damage it will do to your other children. The scenario of your disabled child left to fend for himself for an hour of you running errands will be replaced by the scenario of you not knowing how much of the 48-hour weekend visit at his father's will be completely "independent."

I suggest developing a strong support network of other parents, friends, neighbors, etc. who can care for your child when you need a haircut or respite. I also suggest removing your husband from responsibility for his disabled child altogether. It isn't fair but by separating them, you can focus your limited resources/energy on your child. The only thing required of him is that he leaves the room when there's an issue. He can be at least that grown up about it.

If he really does have untreated mental illness, insist he get treated. Not that he will, but don't let it be an elephant in the room. Even if he won't communicate and deal with it, you can make it known it's not something you'll tolerate.

I'm sorry you're in this situation. The more loving, patient people you can involve in your child's life - and in your life - the better. Move your energy and focus away from your husband and spend it on yourself and your child.
posted by headnsouth at 6:37 AM on January 24, 2017 [26 favorites]

You might also, as you work this out, consider a NAMI support group for getting support about your husband's own untreated mental illness. There are many good groups for family members of people with mental illnesses (my partner goes to one) and they can be a good lifeline for people feeling like that are at the end of their ropes. They can also advise on places to get good legal assistance with issues similar to what you are dealing with. I am sorry you are going through this.
posted by jessamyn at 6:37 AM on January 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have hidden our problems from family and friends, although at least a few suspect.

Also I would, as part of starting to work through this problem, stop doing this. Let family members and friends who you trust know what is going on. They may have suggestions and support offers that you might not expect. At the very least having a friend come over while you get a haircut (as one example) or leaving your child with someone might be preferable to the situation you have now. It's not your fault your husband isn't getting his mental illness treated and you don't have to stay silent about how it is affecting your life.
posted by jessamyn at 6:39 AM on January 24, 2017 [59 favorites]

This is really complicated. It is clear that you are in a very difficult situation, and that you are desperate, but your ask has a lot of loose ends.
I can't really grasp the concept of "disability-related misbehavior" -- what would that be?
Also, you mention that your husband has mental health issues, what are they?

eleslie is bringing up some good points. As a family, you are all in a difficult situation, and you and your husband have very different strategies for coping. Earlier today, I read this article, about a family with two children with autism, and way down at the bottom of the story, their eventual coping strategy is really sweet, after one has realized how troubled they have been.

As a family, you need help. I don't know what you can get through your insurance or your state, or if you can afford to hire help for something like 5-10 hours a week. Maybe someone in the family will help, if you ask. If you are alone with the children, you will need that help, but you might as well start now. It may save your marriage, if you really want to save it.

When I divorced from my husband, it was for the sake of our child. I felt I still loved him and wanted things to work out. In retrospect, I needed to get out for the sake of me. Also for our child, but first of all for me. Like in the planes, where they instruct you to put on your own oxygen mask first. Might this be relevant for you? Because I made a lot of bad decisions because I didn't realize the gravity of my own situation. My ex is mentally ill, diagnosed by a psychiatrist, not me. For years, I didn't say this openly to family, friends, lawyers or authorities - I meant to protect him, but I only gave him false hopes and a reason to pursue unwinnable fights with all and everyone. If your spouse is mentally ill, take it seriously, act on it.

In spite of my own bad judgement and my ex's fighting spirit, all authorities consistently supported me. They were easily able to see through his arguments.
posted by mumimor at 6:46 AM on January 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Your obvious first step is to consult a local divorce attorney. Without that, every single thing any of us say in this thread is useless.

With that said, two things spring to mind. You do not say anything about your family's income or whether you are employed outside your home or are a stay-at-home parent. Divorce is a huge predictor of poverty for women and children. Please be mindful of that as you consider if divorce is the best option for your household, especially if your husband is likely to go scorched Earth.

If physical custody of your son is the priority, though, I think that's the real sticking point. The chances that a court will not grant unsupervised access and some kind of split custody is near nill. An attorney can advise, but this may be the show-stopper for you.

It is possible you can re-negotiate your household arrangements? Could you do something like convert a garage to a bedroom so you and your husband can physically separate? Can you get respite care or hire a carer for a few hours a week (this is much cheaper than divorce)? Basically can you think of something between the two poles of married and divorced that could actually help you get your needs met within the probably confines of reality?
posted by DarlingBri at 6:55 AM on January 24, 2017 [8 favorites]

I've been in family law for 5 years. You need to talk to a lawyer. A good one, not one that will tell you what you want to hear. Supervised visitation will not happen, that's reserved for drug addicts and parents who have been out of the picture. Depending on what state you're in, some have visitation guidelines that work out to be at least every other weekend and 1-2 nights per week. If dad fights for 50/50 custody, he has a very good chance of getting it, after a long drawn out process involving lawyers for you Both and for the children. At the very least he'll get parenting time 33% of the time (I'm assuming You're in America). Unfortunately, spouse-diagnosed mental illness will not do you any favors. I believe you, and I know how hard it is to live with someone in denial about their own mental health, but it's just not enough. Even if you miraculously do end up with sole custody (which might not even be a thing in your state anymore--illinois did away with "custody" last year) he will still get visitation.

I think you need to look at this from a different angle. Make your husband come with you to your child's doctor appointments and get him on board with a plan. I know you've said that you've tried, but keep trying. Have someone come into your home and help you both care for the child. He needs to stop being in denial that your child needs extra help, and that it's okay and doesn't make him any "less."

And then once he's on board, then divorce him, for yourself not your kids. Because it doesn't sound like you like him very much.
posted by katypickle at 7:04 AM on January 24, 2017 [15 favorites]

O.P,, are you employed? If not, how do you plan to support your children alone?
I'm not a stay-together-for-the-sake-of-the-children person, but household income is a huge issue which you haven't touched on.
posted by BostonTerrier at 7:16 AM on January 24, 2017

Only a lawyer can help you. Only a lawyer with experience handling allocation of parental responsibility and parental time for families with a disabled child can help you. But as Etrigan said, the courts have dealt with this before--it's novel for you, but it's pretty ordinary for the profession. It does take a specialist because, among other things, the court's not necessarily going to lose jurisdiction over your case when this child reaches the age of 18 or whatever standard your state uses.

I would suggest calling the disability rights or advocacy organization in your community that you trust and ask them for referrals to family law attorneys who have experience in this area. They exist but it may take you a while to find one. Ask the people who handle your child's school plan which family law firms have experience with divorce with minor children with disabilities.

This is tough but you can do it. If there is any chance you're near Chicago, I can ask around for someone who could help you, just shoot me a memail.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:22 AM on January 24, 2017

I'm not sure if I'm reading your question correctly, but it sounds like there may still be a 20% desire to stay married assuming care of your disable child improves?

I'm not advocating staying married if you want out, but if you are going to divorce, there will be times you will need to be out of the house and need child care. How are you planning to manage that? I would put solving that issue first. Because if hiring a caregiver of some sort lets you leave the house without worrying about your children, that's worthwhile even if you get divorced later - and may ease the tensions in your home that childcare seems to spark. Even just having someone who regularly comes a few set hours a week (during which you can schedule appointments and go shopping, etc) will either show you a way to manage the way things are, or give you confidence that you can leave and things will be okay. It also gives your husband someone he can call after a divorce if he needs help during his time with the kids (full custody does not mean he will never have the children for visits).
posted by Mchelly at 7:24 AM on January 24, 2017 [5 favorites]

The scenario of your disabled child left to fend for himself for an hour of you running errands will be replaced by the scenario of you not knowing how much of the 48-hour weekend visit at his father's will be completely "independent."

This. The worst thing about getting divorced was that I had absolutely no control over what happened with my children when they were with my ex, and there was no longer any need for him to try to compromise with me. So if your husband, for instance, starts dating or gets married to someone who is even worse with your disabled child, there will probably be nothing you can do about it. All of the problems you describe could conceivably be worse with divorce - and then you won't be with your disabled child to try to ensure either physical or emotional safety.
posted by FencingGal at 8:17 AM on January 24, 2017 [10 favorites]

Nthing lawyer.

Purely anecdotal and nothing more-- I divorced my ex when my youngest of 3 (who lives with a few disabilities, which fwiw is the preferred way to discuss this, not a disabled kid) was four years old. I divorced him for quite a few reasons, the most important being that he had become a negligent/abusive parent.

Despite a decent lawyer, a court-appointed guardian ad litem and testifying psychologists who noted the damage my ex had been doing to the kids (and was continuing to do), my ex got shared custody (this is in MA, if it matters). It is VERY difficult to revoke a parents' rights.

We were both told to take an online parenting class as proof we were good parents.

As we divorced and he started having weekend visits, he left the kids alone overnight (they were 11, 10 and 4 at the time) and locked my son in a car while he met his gf on a date; and there was nothing I could do about it.

All I could do was note it and take him to court and present these facts, and the judge tsked him and he was allowed to keep seeing the kids and doing tremendous amounts of damage to them. I had to give up time (and money I didn't have) to take that SOB to court and it was only after the third time that a judge said if he didn't stop his nonsense, he would order supervised visitation. After that, my ex stopped seeing the kids completely. That was 10 years ago and they haven't seen him since then (he literally lives down the street).

Lastly, my financial situation took (and continues to take) an incredible hit. I work one full time job as a tenured teacher and a part time job and I live in government housing (only because I work for the town) and am pretty broke most of the time.

I suggest really working with your husband to get him onboard and for him to understand the stakes. Also, you really do need a solid support system and you should try to increase your circle of trust. I wish you the best of luck.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 8:19 AM on January 24, 2017 [23 favorites]

I'm a lawyer but not your lawyer and I don't work in family law and probably am not licensed in your state.

Talk to an attorney who specializes in family law. Ask them all of these questions and more. Talk about strategies. Talk about what you should do. Then do what they say.
posted by bile and syntax at 8:42 AM on January 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

In several years, your disabled child will be an adult and may live elsewhere, may have a more independent life. Please think about finding other less-permanent solutions to what is, in fact, a temporary problem.

One's husband's not loving his own disabled child is not a temporary problem. Being married to someone with a huge gaping chunk missing from his humanity is also not a temporary problem and will manifest itself again in other ways later on. This is not a person anyone could feel comfortable growing old with. He will not care for his wife should she need it in her old age.

OP, are you sure that your husband will even want to participate in custody of your disabled child? That requires work and keeping your temper and all that unfair stuff. Obviously, informed legal advice is the most important thing here, but as a strategy, this is the sort of situation where I would be willing to offer to accommodate his preference on custody of the others (since you say he is not abusive) in exchange for full custody of the disabled child.

I'm very sorry you're in this situation and wish you and your kids the best.
posted by praemunire at 8:47 AM on January 24, 2017 [13 favorites]

Like there would be periodic ER visits because his supervision isn't close enough and he's easily distracted/bored when watching the kids, but it's within the bounds of social acceptability.

Is this something that has actually happened? More than once? If so, it counts as neglect, which is a form of abuse.

Nthing lawyer.
posted by brujita at 9:14 AM on January 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

(Like there would be periodic ER visits because his supervision isn't close enough and he's easily distracted/bored when watching the kids, but it's within the bounds of social acceptability.)

I find this a bit mind-boggling: are you talking about the kids poisoning themselves/breaking limbs/needing stitches? I know that even the most carefully-supervised kids can manage this occasionally, but you sound very fatalistic that it's bound to happen, in which case "the bounds of social acceptability" sounds like a bit of plausible lying on his part, and some minimizing cover-up on yours.

You really need to stop keeping this to yourself, and make sure that your family and friends network have a better idea of what is going on.
posted by Azara at 9:14 AM on January 24, 2017 [8 favorites]

I have known people in similar situations to yours, where one member of the couple was really, really good at staying on top of things as a caregiver in a difficult situation, and the other was not.

The solution in some of those cases was to accept that the needs of the person being cared for were beyond what the couple could consistently achieve, and to seek outside help for caregiving, so that the super-competent caregiver could stand down from high alert on a regular basis, and the other caregiver could participate to the level of their abilities without being overwhelmed.

If you and your husband both have the space to consider this, I'd highly recommend it.
posted by zippy at 9:20 AM on January 24, 2017 [6 favorites]

Nthing folks above. There is nothing remotely socially or otherwise about more than one ER visit because a parent was not paying attention to his children.
posted by Bella Donna at 9:21 AM on January 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

Also, after I left my alcoholic husband and shared custody of our child with him my kid's question to me a few later was: how could you leave me with him? I do think you should divorce his ass but not before the kids are older. Pretend that he is Obama and you are the GOP and just stymie his ass at every opportunity by building the largest strongest support network you possibly can. He is not the only person in denial. So are you. Because you're hoping for a solution. There is no single permanent solution until your kids are older. If you need to keep protecting them, it sounds like you need to stay married. And it also sounds like you need to take care of yourself and make your own self care a priority. And that means using as much of his money as you can to hire sitters so you can get your haircut in peace. And you need to be honest with your family and friends, not in a negative and hostile and angry way because that will work against you. But in a factual, calm way. And you need to document the hell out of every single thing that you will need for evidence if/when you get to the point where for your own health and well-being you absolutely have to divorce him. The longer you wait, the more evidence you gather, the more money you save will all work in your favor.

Making your own sanity and your own well-being a priority will allow you to tolerate an intolerable situation for longer. Best of luck to you. Don't hesitate to PM me if you want to discuss this more. I am so sorry you are facing the situation. My situation was never this bad but it was similar because my guy also ignored/denied our child's particular needs. But I wasn't a perfect parent either and he was much more patient than I in many situations. And that is why I was able to do joint custody; my kid actually needed us both. Also, if you can get a home health aide or some other kind of support, do it. Do every single thing you can. experiment the hell out of this.
posted by Bella Donna at 9:30 AM on January 24, 2017 [13 favorites]

Does your area have something like this? (Here called The Office of the Children's Lawyer). They are extremely useful in cases where a child needs an objective advocate.

Also, here, any attorney will give you a free initial half-hour consultation. I recommend interviewing a number of lawyers, as they come in many different flavours. If you anticipate a big fight, you do not want a pleasant person whose practice is centred around mediation &c -- you want somebody who you would be scared of if they were the opposing attorney in court, a tenacious bulldog. While you don't want the "tell you what you want to hear" variety, one who can quickly spell out strategies likely to lead to desired outcomes is a good thing. The first attorney I dealt with was of the bulldog nature and gave excellent advice I did not hear a peep about from less aggressive sorts, and it worked out very well. Somebody with experience with domestic abuse might be a good call; even though this is not a DV scenario, you want somebody with experience with protecting people in more need of protection than usual. One writer whose work I'd recommend perusing is Lundy Bancroft.

I too want to recommend talking with friends and family about this -- hidden family problems are unfortunately common and you may find first-hand experiences/empathy from surprising sources, and, it is a lot easier to suffer/go through rough times and transitions with support, and you definitely want to shore up your support networks here. Also: keep a journal, somewhere well hidden or password-protected. Make objective notations: "Went to supermarket, 6-7:30pm. Came home to find child X had been sent to his room as punishment for not clearing his plate at dinner and left alone to cry for a full hour. Husband shouted in response to my stating "I do not feel that that was in X's best interests," referred to me as "a terrible mother" in front of all children. Slept on sofa that night; husband would not speak with me at all after the shouting." Just little notations of facts. The stress of court can make it difficult to remember details, but if you can easily average out the % of days he is unstable in a particular fashion, or got in trouble at work for poor behaviour there (I hear you on "presents well," but sometimes your other half can present well to you in part by hiding things).

You mention the scorched-earth scenario you anticipate. In my experience, the two are not very compatible in family court; if he pushes hard and makes clear he is out for revenge rather than the children's best interests, he will not appear as a good guy to a judge. And, while he may kick a fuss over a divorce and seek to hurt you in as many ways as possible, I too wondered if he would even be interested in custody of your disabled child. I have a number of friends who have been stuck in similarly lousy situations, and what often happens is that the non-functional parent claims to want a particular custody situation, and within a year or so they have dropped the ball so far, missed so many visits, etc, that the other parent returns to court and the non-functional one sometimes simply doesn't bother to fight a custody change, or the courts accept that the non-functional one is indeed non-functional, and after a year of unpleasantness for the kid, that's it for unsupervised visits with the non-functional parent. Difficult for you, difficult for your kid, but over and done with eventually.

(Also: is there a family member who would be interested in supervising the visits? Something like paternal grandparents living nearby who, faced with their son having no access vs their son having access at their house, would be pleased to host the two of them for visits?)

My ex has no custody or visitation -- it is rare as people have mentioned, but it does happen. The mention of ER visits is very troubling -- is this a thing that is already going on, or what you anticipate going on if he is in charge without you around? If this is already going on, that will be non-trivial in a custody battle.

If you decide to delay divorcing, make every effort to make your problems an open book to friends and family. You need all the friends and support you can muster. Don't make the mistake of thinking that your own happiness is insignificant -- while I am with you in that kids always come first, part of that means that they need a parent who is living the best possible life under the circumstances. Stress and misery for you will be palpable to your kids; you need to protect yourself to parent well.

There's even more I'd like to ramble on as we have a few things in common, but I'd rather not discuss them here for the sake of my child's privacy -- but if you are comfortable with it, please shoot me a MeMail and I'd be happy to pass along my experiences that are comparable to yours, and the outcomes. (Which were generally positive.)
posted by kmennie at 9:38 AM on January 24, 2017 [5 favorites]

what often happens is that the non-functional parent claims to want a particular custody situation, and within a year or so they have dropped the ball so far, missed so many visits, etc,

Okay, sure; but it can also take many years to get this type of terrible scenario for kids to end and in the meanwhile the potential damage that could be done makes this a really dangerous gamble. I would very much advise against this type of gamble especially because you are mentioning safety concerns.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 10:09 AM on January 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

If your child has disabilities and is school-aged, then presumably your family qualifies for some sort of in-home assistance from therapists that help families cope with the type of disabilities it sounds like your child has.

This could be a HUGE game-changer for your husband and children. It would help you document the situation if this ends in divorce. I know these types of assistance exist and your child absolutely needs their family to know how to communicate and parent effectively - some sort of in-home support will teach all of you these skills.

It will be a great step instead of heading straight to divorce. If you head to divorce, this will help you. Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 10:44 AM on January 24, 2017 [4 favorites]

These are mostly thoughts that I'm posting on the off chance something might be helpful. There are also some questions; if you want to respond anonymously to them or to questions in other comments, you can contact a mod to have them post the answers.

It might be useful (if you haven't already been doing this) to see a social worker to figure out what resources would be available to you as a divorced single parent - or as what you are now (a married parent with a spouse who cannot be left alone with his children). I also would consider investigating whether Child Protection Services where you live are set up to be helpful at all in cases like this (I don't know the answer).

One question that does come to mind is what the long-term prognosis is regarding your son's need for care. Is his disability such that he should be able to live independently as an adult and will probably only need constant supervision for some finite number of years, or will he require that level of supervision throughout his life? If the former, are there some expectations in place for what the transition from dependant child to independent adult should look like, and roughly when you expect different milestones to be reached?

If you decide to stay and work on the situation, are there any cases regarding your son where you could "compromise"? By that I mean that if your husband, as you say, believes in giving your son more independence and responsibility, maybe you could come to some agreement about giving him responsibility without, at least for now, independence? Would it be possible to come to some agreement about a hierarchy of independence levels and what kind of capabilities you would need your son to have before progressing to the next level? (Apologies if none of this is possible; it's difficult to answer without knowing the nature of the disabilities in question.)

Are there things about your son that your husband likes?

Does your husband feel you coddle the other kids?

It would be relevant to this question to know how old all three kids are and what you mean by there being ER visits if your husband supervises. Has this actually happened before (not to mention, happened often)? Could you give some examples of the kind of trouble your son might get into when left alone? About what sorts of things does your husband get upset at him?

Another thing I was wondering was whether your husband's attitudes about your son have affected your other children's attitudes at all toward their brother.

Finally, is there any chance your husband is the kind of guy who might be receptive to learning about your son's disabilities from a medical/neurological point of view? Like, is he the kind of person who scoffs at therapists because they seem too "woo" but would be willing to read published scientific papers and learn to understand the mechanisms involved and the types of treatment that have been trialed?
posted by trig at 12:51 PM on January 24, 2017

Late to the show as usual...

YMMV but my eldest child has ASD/ADHD/SPD. During the Rocky period of diagnosis a few years ago it became clear that my ex, her father, also has ADHD and ASD. Seeing that made things much easier for me, as I used to really struggle with aspects of his behaviour. Knowing it means I know what he is and isn't capable of and can act accordingly (for example when it was clear he could not cope with her various appointments, spending 40 of our precious 50 minutes with the psychiatrist arguing with them about how she's "not that bad" - nobody suggested she was "bad"!? I simply stopped inviting him along and accepted full responsibility for that aspect of her care). Things are not magically fixed to the point that I don't worry - I do. But things are easier as I just treat him how he needs to be treated, make the same allowances I hope others will make for our child and generally get on with things.

BUT and it us a huge one, I am remarried with two more children (one severely autistic), to an extremely supportive, caring man, who helps me hold up the sky over the head of my eldest when my ex cannot.

I guess I would also just say talk to a lawyer, but I wanted to write because perhaps something similar is at play in your family, and seeing your husband through that lens will help? Feel free to inbox if you like.
posted by intergalacticvelvet at 1:12 PM on January 24, 2017

I know it's difficult because you don't have child-free time, but you might benefit from a support group for parents of kids with disabilities. Your issue -- wanting to get a divorce because the other parent isn't stepping up -- is one I've heard many times. Some support groups have babysitting. You don't say where you are, but this is the sort of place I'm thinking of. Hospitals have support groups, too.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:20 PM on January 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

Children can have their own legal representation in a divorce to advocate for their needs. If you talk to a divorce lawyer, bring this up as a possible tactic you're interested in learning more about.
posted by juniperesque at 5:45 PM on January 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Unfortunately my experience with this has been that he will. no longer want anything to do with the disabled child, while continuing to want to parent the other kids. I know several women in this situation and it's very hard.
posted by fshgrl at 8:53 PM on January 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

Having kind of been there, done that, I will suggest the following:

1. Don't lawyer up just yet. If you do talk to a lawyer, do it in secret.
2. Start reading books on negotiating, like "Getting to Yes."
3. Join some online support groups. I got the best support on "twice exceptional" lists and gifted homeschoolers lists. Disability groups tend to be too accepting of the idea that the child must have a lesser life. Twice exceptional (aka 2xe) lists are much better about assuming these kids will live differently, but that doesn't mean they simply are less than everyone else. It is much more proactive and empowering.
4. Your marriage and family situation may benefit from embracing an old fashioned marriage where mom and dad have distinct roles and dad is primarily the bread winner while mom is in charge of the house and kids. Try to express your appreciation for what hubby does well and try to just cut him out of the picture for stuff he sucks at without criticising him.

I wrote a longer reply that I don't want to post here. If you want to email or memail me, you can have it. I would be happy to discuss this with you further privately. The short version is I worked around my ex's problems until the kids were older and I was better situated for pursuing a divorce without it being a disaster for everyone involved.

posted by Michele in California at 11:35 AM on January 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

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