A recent article in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior looked at the impact of serious physical illness on marriages. The study revealed that when a woman suffers from a serious physical illness, her husband is statistically far more likely to divorce her than in a parallel situation where the roles are reversed.
Discomfort with the caretaking role
The study looked at social and relational factors that occur when one party in a marriage is diagnosed with a serious illness. Many of the stressors experienced by the married couple are expected – such as economic struggles due to one spouse being unable to work and incurred medical costs. But when wives are the ones to end up sick in the relationship, husbands seem to find the greatest discomfort in the changes that take place in the caretaking role.
This led the doctors in the study to examine the link, finding that the risk of divorce for married women with a serious illness to be six times higher than if it were their husbands who became ill.
Unique considerations for sick spouses
If you suffer from a chronic or severe physical illness and your marriage has fallen apart, you have special considerations to think of during the divorce process:
- Health insurance: Are you able to work? If not, how will you obtain and pay for health coverage? Will you be able to obtain COBRA coverage through your spouse after the divorce?
- Life insurance: Will you be excluded from coverage due to your diagnosis once you divorce your spouse and are dropped from their plan?
- Spousal support: You should speak in depth with your attorney about this subject and the options available based on your situation. Whether it is a continual or lump sum payout, temporary or permanent, if you are limited in your ability to provide for yourself due to your illness, this is an important issue for you to think about.
- Child custody: How does your illness impact your ability to care for your children? You should discuss your health limitations with your attorney, who can then write the parenting plan to clearly lay out responsibilities for care, drop off and pick up in a manner tailored to your situation and illness.
- Property division: Your spouse may have initiated divorce proceedings at a time when you were most vulnerable. But this shouldn’t result in an unfair settlement for you. Your lawyer can help you to ensure that your monetary and non-monetary contributions to the marriage are taken into full account.
It is sad and unfortunate that someone suffering from a serious illness would have to face the stress of divorce in the midst of it. However, with some consideration and planning, you and your attorney can work together to create a viable plan for your future.