In sickness and health: Mature divorces more likely when wives fall ill

When most couples in Manchester tie the knot, they take their vows seriously and intend to see the marriage through until death. Sadly, uncontrollable developments, such as spousal health, sometimes impede this goal. A surprising new study indicates that among older couples, divorce is significantly more likely if the wife becomes seriously ill.

Marital strains

The University of Michigan study reviewed data regarding the relationships of more than 3,000 couples, which was collected over almost 20 years, according to CBS. At least one person in each relationship was over the age of 50.

Altogether, 31 percent of the marriages reviewed ended in divorce during the 20-year period. In just under half of those divorces, the wife had fallen ill with one of four serious diseases that researchers targeted: cancer, lung disease, heart disease or stroke. The health of the husband, on the other hand, did not seem to raise the risk of divorce.

Sickness among wives was not simply more common and therefore coincidentally associated with divorce. Husbands actually developed the four illnesses more frequently than their wives did. The researchers concluded that, overall, wives were generally more likely to be widowed and more likely to get divorced if they personally developed the serious illness.

Researchers did not track which spouse initiated the divorce proceedings. However, they noted that women are generally more likely to initiate divorces than men are. Researchers theorized that social expectations casting women as caretakers may make it difficult for husbands to provide support to their sick wives or, alternately, for wives to accept needed help from their husbands.

Whatever the reason behind this pattern, it is crucial that couples divorcing under similar circumstances understand their rights and arrive at a fair settlement.

Appropriate divorce settlements

New Hampshire law requires that all marital property be divided equitably between spouses. An equitable distribution is not necessary equal; instead, the distribution reflects what a family law judge deems fair based on several factors.

The health of each spouse is one variable that a judge evaluates before dividing property. A spouse whose health makes gainful employment difficult or otherwise poses a financial burden may receive more assets in the final settlement. However, a judge must also consider several other factors, including:

  • The length of the marriage.
  • The age, income, occupation and vocational skills of each spouse.
  • The separate property and liabilities of each spouse.
  • The financial contribution each spouse made.
  • The way one spouse supported the education or career of the second spouse.

Once other factors are considered, spouses with serious health conditions are not necessarily guaranteed a desirable settlement.

If one spouse is significantly economically disadvantaged, even after property is divided, that spouse may be entitled to alimony. A judge considers several of the previously mentioned factors, including the health of each spouse, to determine whether the disadvantaged spouse should receive periodic or lump sum alimony.

These considerations can be complex in any divorce; issues such as spousal illness can make reaching a reasonable settlement even more difficult. Anyone pursuing a New Hampshire divorce under these circumstances should speak with an attorney about reaching a settlement that is appropriate based on the situation.