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Disability, Illness and Divorce

Ask anyone who has been married for more than five years and they’ll tell you that marriage takes work; it doesn’t maintain itself. Spouses must communicate well, focus on what makes each other happy, and continue nurturing their relationship.

Sometimes it’s the smallest gestures like making a spouse dinner, bringing them a cup of coffee, or asking them to take a leisurely stroll around the neighborhood hand-in-hand that make all the difference. For a relationship to get stronger over the years, spouses must put effort into their relationship, otherwise it can slowly unravel.

Some couples are faced with unexpected challenges in their marriage, such as a child with autism, bankruptcy, infidelity, or an elderly in-law that moves in with the young couple. Some couples are able to overcome these challenges in stride, while others collapse under the pressure.

While every marriage is tested by challenges to one extent or another, one of the greatest obstacles that a couple will face is where one spouse is disabled in an accident or due to a debilitating disease. Accidents and illness can put the best marriages to the ultimate test.

When a Disability Harms a Marriage

When we are young, most of us never contemplate that we’ll one day become disabled, but disabilities are very common. According to the Social Security Administration, a 20-year-old has a 1-in-4 chance of becoming disabled before they reach the full age for retirement – an unsettling number.

As you can imagine, having a disabled spouse can put a lot of strain on a marriage, especially if it was rocky before the disability. Both spouses will suffer in their own way, but for different reasons.

For example, the disabled spouse won’t be able to do all the things they used to do, like work, go to the gym, or take vacations, while the healthy spouse must take on a lot more responsibilities. This can be painful for both spouses in more ways than one.

Common disabilities that affect marriages:

  • Mental illness
  • Cancer
  • Substance addiction disorders
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Chronic heart failure
  • Traumatic brain injuries (TBI)
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Spinal cord injuries resulting in paralysis

Depending on the nature and severity of a disability, it can affect several aspects of a marriage. A disabled spouse may no longer be able to be intimate with their husband or wife, they may not be able to make financial contributions to the household, and they may be unable to care for the couple’s children.

In effect, the relationship between husband and wife suffers and in severe cases, the spouses no longer want to be together. While this certainly does not happen to all marriages, it can and does happen to many and for reasons we can understand.

Divorcing After Disability

Considering the strain a disability places on individuals and couples, it’s no surprise that many marriages dissolve after a spouse becomes severely disabled. In these situations, there may be special considerations to take into account for the disabled spouse, such as health insurance, spousal support and Social Security Disability.

The healthy spouse may obtain custody of the couple’s children, and they may benefit by securing a life insurance policy in the disabled spouse’s name to assist with child support should something bad happen. These are just a few factors that must be considered in a divorce involving a disabled spouse.

If your marriage has been affected by a severe disability and you’re headed for divorce, we urge you to contact our Encino divorce firm for help. Our lead attorney is board certified in family law and would be glad to offer you legal advice regarding your delicate situation.

To get started, contact Cutter & Lax without delay!

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