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A wife's serious illness raises the chance of divorce

Even though Massachusetts has the lowest divorce rate in the nation, it is worth taking note of the factors that can influence the likelihood of divorce for any couple. A recent study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior found that divorce was 6 percent more likely for couples in which the wife had a serious illness. When the ill spouse was the husband, on the other hand, the chance of divorce did not increase.

Researchers used the Health and Retirement Study (1992-2010) to gather data on 2701 marriages in which one or both spouses experienced serious illness in order to see how illness affected divorce and widowhood. Not surprisingly, both wives' and husbands' illnesses were associated with an increased risk of widowhood. However, only wives' illnesses were associated with a small but increased risk of divorce. One possible explanation for this finding has to do with the stresses associated with caregiving. The healthy spouse may have to take care of the sick spouse while also managing all the other household responsibilities. For men, not typically socialized into caregiving roles, this task may prove overwhelming.

Data did not show who initiated the divorce in situations of a wife's illness. The study's authors theorize that the initiators could be wives unsatisfied with care from husbands, or, conversely, husbands unable to deal with the demands of caregiving and household management. In either case, the researchers noted how the results underscore the challenges that illness places on marriages, and that the stresses of caregiving need to be taken seriously.

Whether illness was a precursor to a divorce or not, it's important that someone seeking a divorce has adequate legal assistance. An attorney can be helpful in ensuring that the spouse is awarded sufficient support and their fair share of the marital property.

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