Report: Divorce Likelier When Wife Falls Ill

Posted by Steven D. Eversole | Mar 17, 2015 | 0 Comments

It's plainly written in almost all vows of marriage that the union is to last through times of sickness as well as good health. However, there is evidence that sickness has a devastating impact on some marriages – particularly if it's the wife who falls ill.

The research was published recently in theJournal of Health and Social Behavior.

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Study authors discovered that when a wife was diagnosed with a major illness, the marriage was 6 percent more likely to crumble than if the wife stayed healthy. The sizable study examined the outcome of some 2,700 marriages where at least one partner was 50 or older. Interestingly, the husband's illness didn't impact the divorce rate.

Researchers were quick to point out that while an illness can cause definite stress to a marriage, there is no definitive cause-effect relationship. The study didn't examine how illness might have contributed to the divorce, though there was speculation that traumatic life-and-death experiences can cause people to take stock of what's important in their lives.

While some media outlets have already jumped to the conclusion that it's the husband's who are doing the divorcing, the study authors say that wasn't part of the research. It may very well be women are upset by their husbands' caregiving, or that the illness prompted them to re-examine what they want in life.

Of those marriages studied, one-third ended in divorce, while one-quarter ended in the death of a spouse.

This phenomenon is not exactly new. An older study published in the journal Cancer revealed that of 515 cancer patients, women diagnosed with serious illness were seven times more likely to become separated or divorced as men who faced similar health issues. Normally, the divorce rate is about 12 percent. However, when gender differences were analyzed, it was revealed 21 percent of marriages involving female illness ended, while only 3 percent of those with male illness ended.

On average, most couples in that study divorced about six months after the diagnosis, suggesting the separation was directly related to illness.

Given the impact of poor health on a marriage, it's no wonder that health care coverage is often a primary consideration in Birmingham divorces.

This is something that deserves careful consideration from your attorney.

For example, if neither spouse has group health insurance coverage, spouses need to determine who will purchase it for the children, if there are any, and who will pay the costs. In some cases, the costs are decided via percentages. So a custodial parent might pay 30 percent, while the non-custodial parent pays 70 percent.

If, however, one spouse has group coverage and the other does not, a court order may be required to have that coverage continue – particularly if the ill spouse is the one without group coverage. If health insurance coverage is lost, COBRA may be one option to pursue for continuing coverage. It's usually more expensive, but it's worth the cost not to have to go without.

The best scenario is when both spouses have their own existing coverage and can maintain that coverage after the divorce. That scenario is not as common.

Divorce agreements can also include provisions about who should pay the cost of health insurance premiums, whether group coverage should be maintained for a certain period of time (especially important when one spouse is grappling with illness) and who should cover the cost of co-pays.

Additional Resources:

Divorce More Likely When Wife Gets Seriously Ill, Study Finds, March 9, 2015, By Justin Worland, Time Magazine

About the Author

Steven D. Eversole

J.D., Samford University's Cumberland School of Law, Birmingham, Alabama B.A., University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

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