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The impact of catastrophic illness on divorce rates

Texas residents are likely aware that significant life changes can place enormous stress on even the strongest marriages, and divorce rates often increase sharply during times of economic or social upheaval. A spouse being diagnosed with a catastrophic illness may also place a great deal of strain on a marriage, and researchers from Iowa State University decided to look into how a diagnosis of cancer, lung disease, heart disease or stroke impacted divorce rates among older married couples.

The researchers looked into how such a diagnosis affected the marriages of 2,701 older couples between 1992 and 2010, and their findings were recently published. The study revealed that the rate of divorce among these couples did not rise when the husband became ill, but it went up by 6 percent when it was the wife who was diagnosed with a serious medical condition.

The researchers were unable to determine which of the spouses had initiated divorce proceedings, but they speculated that it was frequently the wives who took this step. Men are often unprepared to step into the primary caregiver's role, and it is believed that wives are frequently unhappy with the quality of care provided by their husbands. Other observers feel that an increase in divorce rates among the seriously ill may be explained by the reevaluation of priorities that often accompanies a life changing experience.

Going through a divorce is often an emotionally draining experience, and taking this step during a time of upheaval may add to the pressure. Many spouses wish to have this process go as quickly and painlessly as possible, but the choices they make can cast a long shadow. A family law attorney may be able to provide the perspective and support necessary to help a client avoid poor decisions.

Source: Medical News Today, "Divorce is a more likely end to marriage when wife is seriously ill", Catharine Paddock , Ph.D., March 9, 2015

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