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Recent Custody Change: Autistic Stepson

Mystic18's picture

Forgive me if this is long-winded… I seem to be short on counselors and really need to vent and find a way out of / through this…


My husband and I met in high school, circa 1990.  He was super nice so of course I friend-zoned him as quickly as possible once I realized he would actually treat me well.  Maybe you’re familiar with this ‘healthy’ coping mechanism.  So we remained friends through two failed marriages each and ended up marrying in October of 2014.  At the time, he had his son every other weekend and random times during vacations.  His son lived with his mother who seemed to be doing everything she could to make my husband’s life a living hell – to include withholding his son’s diagnosis of Autism until after we were married. 


Little background – his son had one hell of a time in kindergarten (2012) so dad volunteered in the classroom as often as he could to assist the teacher in dealing with him.  At the time, it was recognized that he had a learning disability but nobody hinted of anything related to Autism.  His attention-seeking behavior left much to be desired but honestly I thought he was an odd little boy that was spoiled between two parents who couldn’t stand each other. 


This boy has been to 6 different schools in as many years and due to his poor behavior (throwing desks/chairs/writing equipment at fellow students/teaching staff, poor self-regulation skills, poor anger management, etc.) his academics are very far behind.  At 11 years old, he currently tops the charts at six feet tall.  So now to current day: We received a call last fall from the boy’s mother that she wondered if maybe our house would be a better place for him.  After the summer we recently spent with the boy (the yelling, fighting, dad needing to hold him in restraint, etc.), my heart sank.  He is larger than me and my three kids, violent, and very difficult to understand.  My husband has gone back to college mid-life and was just about to begin his first year (junior level) at a university.  Initially, I told my husband no way.  We were not set up to house him, pay for treatment he needs, etc.  Since my hub is in college, I am supporting our family on just my income and a few bucks of his student loans and a part time job.  It became clear that I didn’t really have a say because my hub kept saying “what am I supposed to do? He’s not making it out there, etc.” (Out there = a different state from where we currently live.  We moved 2 years ago to live more frugally so he could return to college and get a degree – ironically, he chose a degree in teaching so his schedule will align with his son’s since childcare is so expensive for those on the spectrum)  Mom pulled the plug at that time, brought it up again, dropped it again – it’s been back and forth for 9 months.  Due to the complexities of what this kid needs, I let my husband know that we really needed up to a year if possible to plan for such custody change.  It’s not as simple as buying a new bed and signing him up for soccer and school.  There are doctors and therapists and appointments and IEP’s and, and, and….. 


My husband and I have had the most wonderful 3.5 years.  Since my children are neurotypical and also much older, we have been afforded lots of freedom to build and nurture our relationship.  We did everything together from sipping coffee in the morning to perusing thrift/antique stores to sipping wine in the evening and my daughters have told us on more than one occasion that they hope to someday find a relationship just like ours.  We had so much fun just being together after having been in marriages that were full of drama. 


Mom finally dropped the ball with an attorney and custody change papers were signed two weeks before his already planned summer vacation with us.  Two.  Weeks.  The reason she finally made it happen? I guess the boy hit her.  So I scrambled to find a way to make this all work and reorganize our summer and fall – this meant that because of the boy’s behavior, my husband could not return to his very part time job in August as originally planned and we weren’t expecting that – Even a couple hundred dollars a month is helpful.  The meat of the story…


I am having the hardest time adjusting to this and as it stands right this minute, I can’t see a future in which I do accept it.  Autism carries with it the need for constant care, redirection, boundaries, scheduling, office visits, etc.  He is very immature and the prognosis for Autistic adults doesn’t look good in terms of independent living.  I recognize the boy’s need – 100%.  I just can’t seem to wrap my mind around the fact that I feel like I am losing my marriage in the process.  He has been with us just over a month now.  I won’t list off the amount of things already broken/damaged due to immature behavior or downright intention.  Within the first week, we lost our flat screen TV.  I’ll leave it at that. 


I didn’t sign up for this.  Yes – as many of us know, we “knew they had kids when we married them” – but I didn’t know he had an Autistic child.  I feel like if I’d known that, I would not have married him.  I know what my limits are and this level of financial and emotional stress exceeds my limits tremendously, especially since I am now the only one working and have children of my own to help.  I feel like it’s unfair to my 14 year old daughter that my financial resources need to be spent on a boy that will need them forever.  Yes, eventually my husband will graduate and ideally get a teaching job, but we have to make it to that point first.  Recently we fight all the time, there are constant misunderstandings and misread texts/emails which is leading to splintered trust.  I tried to say no – we couldn’t afford it, for one.  All the services he was receiving with his mother were compliments of the state.  We make too much to qualify for state aid, but not enough to pay for all this, if that makes sense.  On top of that, I walk around on eggshells wondering when the next fit will be and questioning what is getting broken this time… I tried to suggest he at least wait until he graduates so child care won’t be an issue. 


I feel like my husband did not take my concerns into account and that I was steamrolled into this.  I didn’t have a say or a choice about my own home and I feel resentful and bitter about it.  At only a month in, I am growing more concerned by the day if we’ll even make it to the “see – we made it!” part of this.  I feel like I am grieving our marriage – his son is by his side all waking hours of the day.  It’s like I have 2 husbands now due to his inability to self-entertain or relax.  I view this as totally separate issues – your Autistic son needs help AND it has the capability of ruining our marriage. 


Thank you for letting me vent.  I just don’t know if this is something I can live with.  I really so badly wish we’d known this prior to taking vows.   


notarelative's picture

The child is here. Dad has lots to do. Dad (aka H) needs to get his IEP transferred to the new school so correct placement can be made. (assuming you are in the U.S.). Dad needs to investigate and join a parent  support group. Dad needs to figure out the home support services available and utilize them. The ball is in Dad's court.

Dad and you might benefit from joint and individual counseling to deal with this change in custody. SS would benefit from counseling too.


Coco72's picture

Oh Mystic we have so much in common....I too fell back in love with my high school sweetheart, we are probably close to the same age as I graduated in 1990, my children are all grown and DH has grown children and an 11 year old, although he is not Autistic. I empathize with you there, I can not imagine that struggle. Less than a week ago we found out BM is moving and her move will not allow for the current 50/50 custody, so DH wants primary custody, that is not what I thought I was marrying in to. 

I try to put myself in my husbands shoes, as I am sure you do as well, I could never turn my child away, but I think I would try to exhaust every other possible solution.

Did this new custody arrangement come with a new CS order? Is your income included when figuring out CS? It would seem that since DH is a student with only a part time job BM should be paying a substantial amount, no? If she does pay CS does it even come close to covering SS's expenses?

Have you asked DH what he thinks your futures look like and how he plans on getting to that place? What is his plan for SS's future, does he think he will live with you all forever?

This is hard to admit, and I know I will be judged by many for saying this, I was dating a guy who was fun, never thought of him as marriage material, he was exciting, and spontaneous, and like I He was in a horrific accident and spent 2 weeks on life support in a coma, he couldn't even walk, he spent months in a rehabilitation center, he had no one. He was an only child, his mom lives thousands of miles away and his dad was deceased, I was it, a girlfriend. I thought I could handle it, I thought I could make it work because what kind of person bails on someone who is going through this??? We got married. For 10 years we stuck it out, and with each passing day more and more resentment built. I can't say I didn't love him, I did, but I hated him and myself for settling, even more. I wasted my whole 30's, I knew it was never going to work, but I didn't listen to my gut.

I'm so sorry you are going through this!!

Mystic18's picture

Thank you so much for saying that.  I feel like I'm on an island that no one wants to's been a very lonely journey trying to not berate myself for not instantly loving this boy and some days, not even being able to tolerate him.  I can spend time in my room of course, but in doing so I'm ignoring my own kids.  It's awful. 

The boy's mom is supposed to pay a whole $198 a month.  That will cover a few co-payments and a couple meals if we're lucky.  Shockingly, we haven't seen a dime yet (her first payment was to be due 7/1 and second was supposed to be 7/15 - she requested it be split)

We haven't talked a ton about the future.  The conversations we have had, though, tend to be a bit Pollyanna where my husband is concerned.  He thinks with some discipline and restructuring, his son will be able to live independently some day.  I find a hard time believing that given his son's background and current condition.  I'm not trying to knock the boy, it just isn't very realistic given his challenges - at least not in the next 10-15 years.  The fun is that nobody knows.  He could improve OR worsen dramatically - the only thing we have put in place is that if his son harms one of my kids, our dog or myself, my husband will need to make other living arrangements.  

So tell me - how are you feeling about a potential custody change? Do any of your kids live with you guys? How long have you been married? 

Also, I don't judge.  :) 

Harry's picture

you are going to take care of a violent big SS,  with no money and DH playing in college ??  First of all DH has to drop out of college and get a job with really good medical. You should file for Social Securty Disability, this kid is Disabled.  You are going to need help with this child in the day time.  Someone has to pay. Can’t let other kids go on there own because so much time will be spent on SS.  Personally I think the writing is on the wall.  When DH said. “ what am I to do,”. The answer is get off his ass, get a job and him and his kid move out.  If you were not there he would have to handle it not play 

Merry's picture

Your situation changed quickly and dramatically. Your DH needs to handle this, and it might mean he delays college in favor of a full time job so that the financial burden isn't all on you. Lots of classes are online and maybe he can do that for the time being. The needs of his son have to take priority here.

I could not handle this. I would have to hand it over to my DH. The boy needs help, and always will need help, and his needs are not his fault. I think we're all compassionate about that. But the reality of daily life is hard. 

Your DH needs to figure out how to manage his son, relieve your financial burden and responsibility, and nurture your marriage. And you need to make sure your own children are protected and in an environment where they can thrive.

What resources are available to you? Austism programs and professionals to help you figure out options?

ntm's picture

This child needs a group home, most likely permanently, and DH needs to come to terms with that. 

Until then, I agree, you need your own place to live. 

Harry's picture

be some type of summer day care for this type of child.  Check your school District?  Check your town and coutry and state for day care programs.  Any care is better then none.  You must get him to proper medical DR who knows how the system works for him and proper care and drugs.  Not your GP.   Once again this is your DH kid. He must work full time to pay the bills and Co pays.  College is nice when your 18 NOT at his age with an kid with Autism.  There is night school, on line school.   He should stop his crap.

 NUMBER 2. It seems like BM did not get much help from your DH.  I know BM always get picked on here,  but fair is fair. This woman BM looks like she had very little help from your DH, as you moved two State away, so you did not have 50/50 or EWN,  he basically shi*ted on her, now he doing it to you.  I don’t believe they did not know he had Autism.  Every school and DR checks for that ASAP. They knew, you did not. He want it to be surprise , SURPRISE.  

Time to leave him. And make him swim for himself.  I would not be surprise, if you left. SS will be going some place !!! Full time 

ESMOD's picture

I know that you and your DH planned for him to go to school full time.  But circumstances have changed haven't they?  Unfortunately, it sounds like he really needs to pull back to a part time school status and move to a full time employment.. maybe even defer his education for a semester or two of zero classes while he navigates all the new needs his son requires.

It is not fair for you or your kids that you are footing the bill.. BM and DH aren't contributing to their own child's needs and that is NOT your responsibility.

Mystic18's picture

I appreciate your responses.  I really do.  I am heartbroken.  My husband's return to college was a mutual decision we both made in 2015 when BM (is that bio mom?) retained full custody of the child.  It was our way to move our life forward and we've really done everything we set out to do as a couple since that time.  Knowing that his son would require such care and the finances to support it for the rest of his life, we decided going back to school would be our best bet to help his son down the road by way of securing better employment opportunities.   I never thought BM would relinquish custody - having their son and doing a shitty job of raising him was her way of getting back at my husband.  At least that's how it seemed because she kept filing papers asking for more money once we got married.  It's been a nightmare.  

I feel like it's a lose/lose.  Normally I'm the glass is half full person - I really am.  But on this one, I can't find a light at the end of the tunnel for anyone here except possibly his son.  I keep thinking to myself - why is one person's life worth the expense of several others?  

justmakingthebest's picture

My SS is 18, Autistic and Bipolar. He will never live on his own. I understand all of your fears and frustrations. I was lucky that my SS's medications were worked out before he came to live with us. The best advice I can give get a good therapist and get his medications going to help control. 

MoominMama's picture

I would never have agreed to have a violent austistic stepson come and live with me after he had attacked his mother and she 'dropped the ball'. No way. I live with a high functioning autistic step son and that's bad enough with his lies, manipulations, stealing and other behaviours. He used to be very aggressive and bullying but that was the last straw when he slapped me once in the face. I told him that if he even touched me again I would call the police and he knew I meant it. The medications did nothing and he was better off them and with serious behavioural therapy by me and his father. The mother here also 'dropped the ball'. Don't even start me on her.

Knowing what it can be to live with a child like this there is no way I would have done it if I were in your situation. Just wondering - why did you? You had a lovely situation with your husband. I would not want to give that up. I hope it works out for you and that the child improves with therapy and in your care. They need a LOT of hard work imput and very strict boundaries even to be liveable with.

You realise you will have him for the rest of your life right? and then the finance and child support/job part... do you have a Mother Teresa complex? 

'My husband and I have had the most wonderful 3.5 years' to 'Recently we fight all the time'    foretells the future.

Mystic18's picture

Thank you for your comments.  I'm glad I am not the only one in this boat.  I was not given the option to disagree with this or say no.  I tried in every way possible to let my husband know this was not good for anyone in our family with the exception of possibly his son.  Since it's his child I did not feel I had the right to put my foot down or draw an ultimatum.  "When you marry, you marry the kids too" and all that.  But trust me, there is NO Mother Teresa complex here in the slightest.  I knew the child needed help but I never signed up to be the one to do it.  

MoominMama's picture

Marriage is supposed to be about equal status, agreeing on things, working TOGETHER. Not making decisions no matter what the other person wants or railroading them into what you want. He really needs a 'come to jesus' talk.

Your children are important too, not just his. As so often happens, the neurotypicals suffer because so much time, energy, attention and money is poured into the child with special needs. It just isn't fair.

ndc's picture

If the reason his ex finally decided to change the custody arrangement was because the big, over 6 foot pre-teen HIT HER, why in the world would your husband think that moving him into a household with you and your teenage daughter was a good idea?  Were the TV and other household items damaged by SS's carelessness, or by his violence?  If the latter, do you have concern that your kids could be next?  If there's been a need to discuss that him harming you, your kids or the dog will result in your husband and his son moving out (meaning that it's something you all think is possible), is there really a reason to wait for it to happen?

I'm sorry, but I don't see a happy ending anywhere in this story.  If you've had it after a month, I can't see a situation (other than the boy being removed from your household) where your resentment isn't going to build and your marriage isn't going to be a casualty of that.  Especially since you are the only one supporting this household.

You are right - you did not sign up for this.  You didn't know the son was autistic and you were not in favor of him joining your household.  I would not judge you for a minute if you bailed on this situation.  If it's not something you can live with long term, I see no reason to waste your time and resources by staying in the short term.  It's also not fair to your children that you are constantly stressed and your money is going to support SS.   If your husband can't get things under better control quickly - "things" meaning finances, his son's behavior, and his own expectations of you - I would be gone.  And frankly, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if, once he didn't have you to bear his burden, your husband found an alternate placement for his son.