Study suggests connection between sickness and divorce in older spouses

Research indicates older couples are more likely to divorce if the wife becomes seriously ill; such circumstances may notably affect the divorce settlement.

When many couples in McKinney tie the knot, they intend to see their commitment through all kinds of challenges, including the health problems that inevitably come with age. However, new research suggests that these issues may place too much of a burden on many marriages. One study indicates that serious illness significantly raises the risk that an older couple will divorce when the wife is the spouse who becomes ill.

A serious marital strain

The study used data collected from 2,700 married couples between 1992 and 2010, according to Today. Researchers tracked four serious illnesses - heart problems, lung disease, cancer and stroke - and reviewed how those illnesses affected divorce rates. The researchers reached the following conclusions:

  • Overall, almost one-third of the marriages ended in divorce.
  • The wife developed one of the identified illnesses in nearly half of those divorces.
  • The husband's health was not found to be a similar risk factor for divorce.

Researchers could not identify a conclusive reason for this finding. However, caregiving is known to create a burden on the caregiver that can have emotional and physical health consequences, according to Today. Furthermore, since women have often traditionally played the role of caretaker, especially in older marriages, this late reversal of roles may prove difficult for both spouses to adjust to.

According to Today, older couples facing this kind of situation may be able to reduce their risk of divorce by acknowledging their emotions and going through the experience together. Maintaining emotional closeness may help a couple weather the challenges of a serious illness. Still, statistics suggest many couples in this position may ultimately choose to divorce. If this is the case, couples should understand how the circumstances might affect the divorce settlement.

Effects of illness during divorce

Under the Texas Family Code, if a married couple cannot agree on property division, a family law judge divides community property equitably. This is property acquired during the marriage, aside from gifts, inheritances and most personal injury settlements. To find an equitable arrangement, a judge may weigh each spouse's age, health, earning power, education and general needs. This means a spouse's illness, and the associated expenses or physical limitations, could significantly affect the way a judge decides to divide assets.

A family law judge can also order spousal maintenance if the division of property will not meet one spouse's financial needs. A judge may consider whether any physical or mental disablements prevent the disadvantaged spouse from providing for his or her own basic needs; if so, maintenance may be ordered.

Seek legal guidance

Anticipating exactly how complex issues, such as spousal illness, may impact a divorce can be challenging. However, reaching an appropriate divorce settlement is crucial in this kind of situation. People divorcing under these challenging circumstances may benefit from meeting with an attorney to discuss potential outcomes and complications given the specific situation.

Keywords: marriage, divorce