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In Sickness & In Health: Illness & Divorce in Massachusetts

Navigating the world of marriage is challenging, even in the healthiest of circumstances. But what happens when illness, particularly severe or chronic illness, comes into play? Illness, whether it's a physical ailment, mental health issue, or chronic condition, can have a significant impact on a marriage and the various aspects of a divorce.

Here, we will consider how illness can lead to divorce and impact its outcome.

Various illnesses can significantly strain marriages. Chronic physical illnesses like heart disease, Parkinson's disease, or multiple sclerosis often require major lifestyle shifts, impacting both the emotional and logistical aspects of a relationship. Mental health disorders such as major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder can affect personal behavior and social dynamics. Then there are the neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's or dementia that bring cognitive changes, and substance use disorders that introduce behavioral unpredictability and financial stress. Conditions like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or autoimmune diseases, although less discussed, can also alter relationship dynamics due to their unpredictable nature.

Recent research has provided more clarity on the relationship between illness and divorce. A study from the University of Michigan delved deep into this subject. The researchers focused on illnesses like cancer, lung disease, stroke, and heart disease, assessing their impact on marital stability. After analyzing 20 years of data on 2,717 married couples, with at least one partner being over 50 at the start of the study, some startling observations came to light.

Of these marriages, a significant 31% ended in divorce.

While men in the study were more susceptible to illness, a curious pattern emerged: divorce rates surged when the wife fell ill, not the husband. This isn’t an isolated finding. Other studies mirror this trend, indicating a higher likelihood of divorce when wives, rather than husbands, are diagnosed with severe illnesses.

The underlying reasons remain a matter of speculation. One theory suggests that societal caregiving expectations might make men feel ill-equipped for the role. Another perspective, considering that women generally initiate divorces, suggests that wives might feel their husbands aren't providing adequate support during their illnesses. As a result, these women might prefer leaning on other family members or friends. Amelia Karraker, the study’s author, highlighted the need to understand that health concerns might drive the push for divorce, suggesting that additional care and services could be crucial for these divorced, ill women to prevent further health deterioration.

How Illness Can Lead to Divorce

Illness often introduces emotional, physical, and financial challenges into a marriage. Chronic illnesses or debilitating conditions can heighten emotional and physical strains, making both partners feel overwhelmed and distanced. The burden of medical expenses can also amplify financial stress, leading to disagreements and dwindling savings. Moreover, intimacy can be impacted, creating emotional and physical detachment. Traditional roles within the household may need to evolve, causing resentment or feelings of loss. Mental health issues, whether arising from the stress of other illnesses or existing independently, can further strain a relationship, especially if they remain unchecked.

Illness can also affect a divorce itself, impacting alimony, property division, and custody.

The Ramifications of Illness on Divorce Settlements & Custody

When a divorce involves an ill spouse, the settlement considerations become multifaceted. Medical expenses and health insurance take center stage, especially if the ill spouse has limited income. This financial challenge often translates to alimony or spousal support discussions. If the ill spouse cannot work or if their earning potential has diminished, they might be entitled to increased support. The division of marital assets may also lean in favor of the ill spouse, ensuring they are provided for given their future medical costs and potentially reduced earning potential.

Custody battles are always geared toward the best interests of the child. When a parent's health is in question, the court evaluates the parent's capability to meet the child's needs. A deteriorating health condition post-divorce might necessitate revisiting custody arrangements. Visitation rights, however, are typically retained by the ill parent but might require certain accommodations. These can range from supervised visits to arrangements that limit physical strain. For parents grappling with mental health issues, the court's primary concern is the child's safety, which might mean stipulations like therapy or medication adherence.

After a divorce, modifications to support or custody arrangements may be made depending on a parent’s health condition and whether it has worsened or improved.

Building a Brighter Future with Miller Law Group, P.C.

No two families are the same, and the ways that any illness may affect a marriage or divorce proceedings will vary dramatically based on the unique situation and parties involved. At Miller Law Group, P.C., we recognize the highly personal aspect of divorce and work to provide a level of legal representation that is as unique as our clients.

If illness led to your divorce or is a factor to consider in your divorce proceedings, we are here to help. Our Massachusetts family law attorneys understand the many factors that come into play and how to help our clients reach the best possible outcome based on their needs and goals.

To find out how we can help you, call (888) 874-2142.

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