Children with ADHD Associated with Higher Divorce Rate

October 23, 2008

Parents of a child with ADHD are nearly twice as likely to divorce by the time the child is 8 years old than parents of children without ADHD.

A new study in the October issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology has found that the “parents of a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are nearly twice as likely to divorce by the time the child is 8 years old than parents of children without ADHD.” Data from the study was taken from a subset of participants in a larger investigation called the Pittsburgh ADHD Longitudinal Study (PALS) and included 282 adolescents and young adults who had been diagnosed with ADHD in childhood. Parents of the children were asked to “complete a series of questionnaires and diagnostic instruments along with individual interviews.” Results were then compared to 206 demographically similar PALS participants without ADHD and their parents, and showed that 22.7% of parents of children with ADHD had divorced before the child was eight years old, compared to 12.6% of parents whose children did not have ADHD.

Senior author on the study William E. Pelham, Jr, PhD, professor of psychology and pediatrics at the University at Buffalo and director of UB's Center for Children and Families, said “We believe this is the first study to find that both parent and child factors individually predict the rate and time of divorce. Moreover, this is the only study to demonstrate that the severity of the child's disruptive behavior, specifically those with ODD or CD, increases the risk of divorce.” Researchers also reported that, of the characteristics that may contribute to risk of divorce, it was the father’s antisocial behavior that proved to be the biggest factor. Other factors that contributed to a higher rate of divorce included mothers who had substantially less education than fathers; children who were diagnosed with ADHD at a young age; and families who had ethnic minority children or children with serious ODD or CD behavior problems.

The good news is that, according to Pelham, “Families that 'survive' through that age, perhaps because they are low on all of the risk factors, apparently will make it through the rest of the child's childhood.”