Study suggests sickness contributes to divorce among older couples in AL

Research indicates that older couples may be more likely to divorce when the wife develops a serious illness, though the underlying reason is unknown.

Married couples in Alabama generally expect to spend their entire lives together, including periods of poor health. Sadly, though, this may be a more unlikely prospect than many spouses expect. Research shows that older spouses are more likely to get divorced when the wife becomes seriously ill. Unfortunately, spousal illness may also lead to more complex considerations when property is divided and alimony is awarded during divorce.

Health and divorce risk

The Washington Post explains that researchers surveyed data collected between 1992 and 2010 on 2,701 marriages. In each marriage, the spouses were at least 51 years old. Researchers didn't observe a correlation between a couple's income or race and likelihood of divorcing. However, they found that divorce was 6 percent more likely when wives fell ill. Surprisingly, an enhanced divorce risk wasn't evident when men became sick.

When surveying the marriages, researchers only considered four serious illnesses. The results may have been different if more illnesses had been incorporated into the study. Additionally, the researchers did not know which spouse sought the divorce or what the underlying reason was. However, researchers offered a few theories as to why a wife's illness could raise the risk of divorce:

  • Burden of caregiving - research indicates that caregiving can be physically and emotionally strenuous. Due to traditional gender roles, some husbands may not be accustomed to acting as caregivers and facing these challenges.
  • Quality of care - a husband who isn't used to providing care may fall short of his wife's expectations. Research suggests that wives are typically less content with the care their husbands provide.
  • Evaluations of life choices - wives may reevaluate their marriages and other aspects of their lives when facing potentially terminal illnesses. After this reflection, some women may decide to pursue divorces.

Regardless of the underlying reasons, divorces involving one spouse's sickness often introduce unusual considerations. This is because spousal health and financial need can affect various aspects of a divorce in Alabama.

Effects during divorce

When a family law judge divides marital property, the judge weighs the relative needs of each spouse. Marital property is then distributed in a manner that is deemed equitable based on several factors. A spouse's sickness may be considered during this process, since it may affect the spouse's earning power and regular expenses.

The health of one spouse may also affect alimony awards. Family law judges consider many factors, including each spouse's age, health, income and earning power, to determine whether one spouse needs alimony. A serious illness may provide grounds for an award of either temporary or permanent alimony.

Given the financial and emotional challenges that serious illness introduces, a reasonable settlement is essential for spouses who face one. These spouses may benefit from consulting with a divorce attorney to better understand their rights. An attorney may also be able to help these spouses protect their interests during the divorce proceedings.

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