Divorce is never easy.
Family life isn’t always particularly easy, either. Adding autism to close family relationships is an additional challenge for everyone.
Autism has a genetic component and families who have children on the spectrum may also have one or more adults on the spectrum. The signs of autism are more apparent in childhood and whenever a child is diagnosed with autism, it’s a good idea for families to consider whether or not one or more of the parents may be on the spectrum, too. Many adults with high-functioning autism have never been diagnosed because, in many cases, there was little awareness of ASD when they were children.
It is well known that parenting children on the spectrum is a unique and difficult life challenge.
Many families managing children on the spectrum are also dealing with neurological communication incompatibilities between the partners and a vulnerability to domestic abuse and trauma in the marriage relationship.
These families are often in a state of continual duress and trauma. Sometimes divorce is the preferred solution.
There are many ethical attorneys who refuse to contribute to unreasonable family conflict and who will not help partners take aggressive actions against their soon-to-be ex-spouses that will obviously harm the family as a whole and consequently the children. These attorneys are invested in ensuring their clients are truthful and that reasonable divorce solutions are sought for the good of everyone, including their clients.
There are other attorneys who do not have ethical qualms about using the law to hurt their clients’ ex-spouses and consequently their clients’ children. Either these attorneys lack their own personal insight into family conflict (and are perhaps on the autism spectrum themselves) or they simply do not care how much harm comes to families as long as they can take attorney fees and help their clients meet objectives.
Clients with autism can be very lucrative for attorneys. They lack the theory of mind and immediate empathy that would otherwise help them understand the wisdom of putting a halt to their own aggressions during divorce. Without that understanding, unethical attorneys can exploit them by “helping” them use the law to “get the most” out of divorce rather than finding a solution that works for the family as a whole.
The partners with autism lack insight into how their own actions in the divorce will affect the circumstances or how their aggressions will ultimately end up hurting their children and harming the family financially. Attorneys who do not have qualms about stirring up marital conflict and harming children will take advantage of this lack of insight and will agree to aggressions rather than refusing the business or challenging their clients’ vindictiveness or beliefs that marital property does not need to be fairly shared.
It is not uncommon for partners going through divorce to have different ideas about what is “fair.” In mixed-neurological relationships, however, the partner with autism’s theory of mind (ToM) deficits and lack of immediate empathy prevents insight into the typically developing partner’s intentions and perspective. The partner with autism will usually believe that what is “fair” is for the partner with autism to take all or almost all of the resources.
This dynamic is especially difficult in marriages in which one partner has been the provider and the other has raised the children. If the partner with autism is the provider, he or she may feel that there is no need to pay alimony and that the children should lose the other parent. If the partner with autism has cared for the children, he or she may feel that the partner who provides must continue to sacrifice everything in order to keep the children with their primary caregiver even if that means that the provider must work full time while paying child support and alimony for many years and with little access to the children and with hardly enough money to pay for reasonable housing.
In both cases, what the family needs is for laws an attorneys to protect both spouses and the children. Attorneys who don’t mind helping their clients exploit the legal system to meet their objectives will not help their clients with autism achieve happiness and success after marriage, but will line their own pockets with a distressed family’s money because the partners with autism do not have the capacity to understand how much harm they are causing.
Many mixed-neuological divorces cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and go on for years, even when the family’s collective net worth is not high enough to justify the fight.
In mixed-neurological relationships, the partners with autism have theory of mind (ToM), perspective taking and immediate empathy impairment that prevents them from having the insight that would make it easy for them to see that through collaborating and supporting their ex-spouses, they would preserve their relationships with their children and help set their partners up for the kind of success that would ultimately save the partners with autism stress and even money in the future.
Attorneys who take advantage of the theory of mind (ToM), perspective-taking, and collaboration disabilities of their clients with autism for financial gain are culpable for the resulting harm that comes to their own clients, their clients’ children and their clients’ spouses and ex-spouses.
This is exploitation of their own clients’ disabilities for financial gain. It is exploitation of families that may be raising children with disabilities, and spouses and ex-spouses who have already put years and years into managing the difficulties related to autism and close family relationships.
This is exploitation of children.
The money attorneys collect for their services when their clients have theory of mind (ToM) and immediate empathy deficits is money that may have gone to the children for school, treatment, or that could have at least stayed in a family that is likely already under great financial duress.
Partners with autism can seek coaching and consulting to help them better understand how to navigate divorce more effectively and without the use of fault divorce or other legal strategies that will likely ultimately end up greatly harming them, their children and their families. A third-party professional can help partners with autism understand how to protect themselves and their families from attorneys who would be happy to take advantage of them. A good rule of thumb is to never use an attorney who will just do anything that is asked. Ethical attorneys push back a bit — or a lot. They don’t necessarily do everything a client wants because they see it will harm families and children. Just because an attorney is being nice, that doesn’t mean the attorney is really a friend.
Typically developing partners can seek coaching and consulting to help them better understand how to navigate the trauma of divorce when finding an equitable solution means fighting hard to get there. If one partner is fighting hard to take everything, it’s necessary for the other partner to fight back in order to protect the family as a whole and the children.
– Anne Janai, M.L.A.
I provide support for mixed-neurological divorce. Learn more: