Parents of those with developmental disabilities are no more likely to divorce than other moms and dads, new research suggests, but different factors are at play.

For most couples, divorce odds increase as they have more children. Among parents of kids with special needs, however, this phenomenon is absent, according to findings published this month in the American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

Researchers looked at data collected through the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, which has followed more than 10,000 people since they graduated from Wisconsin high schools in 1957 and some of their siblings. From this group, the researchers identified 190 parents with a biological child with a developmental disability and compared their experiences to over 7,250 parents of those without disabilities.

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Overall, parents studied experienced a similar rate of divorce — roughly 1 in 5 couples split up — whether or not they had a child with a disability.

However, for couples with only typically-developing children the risk of divorce was lowest if they had only one child. In cases where parents had a child with a developmental disability, the odds of divorce remained unchanged as their families grew larger, the study found.

“Our results clearly show that the effects of having additional children are different for families of individuals with developmental disabilities compared to the effects on the general population,” said Eun Ha Namkung of the Waisman Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who led the study. “(The findings) suggest that other children in the family may be a vital support system for parents coping with the care of a child with a developmental disability.”

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