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Study shows gender difference in how illness affects divorce

In traditional wedding vows, people would promise to have and hold their loved one for better or for worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health — “til death do us part.” Today, many couples write their own vows, but the idea is still the same: you are bound together, no matter what, until separated by death.

Or are you? Researchers recently unveiled a new study that shows that for couples over the age of 50, major health issues (cancer, heart problems, stroke, lung disease) affect divorce rates. The study shows that if a wife has a major illness, it is 6 percent more likely that the couple will get a divorce. If the husband gets a major illness, the odds of divorce do not change.

A number of studies have also shown that older couples tend to have more wealth, which can sometimes lead to difficult property division disputes.

The lead author of the study on gender differences in how illness affects divorce says reactions to the results have been strong. “People have said, ‘This happened to my friend’ or ‘This happened to me — I got breast cancer and then my husband asked for a divorce.'”

A lot of times, people see study results like this one and they immediately make a variety of assumptions. Perhaps first and foremost, however, a word of caution about studies: they indicate broad results over a large group of people (in this case, 2,701 couples). Study results can’t be applied to individuals.

An article in the Huffington Post also noted several caveats, including the fact that the study doesn’t tell us why the couples are getting divorced after she is diagnosed with a major illness. One factor mentioned: “studies have shown that women report feeling more pain and depression after a chronic illness diagnosis, which may also put strain on a marriage.”

Do the men or women studied tend to initiate divorce? We don’t know. That is also apparently not mentioned in the research. However, previous research has shown that women could initiate about two-thirds of divorces.

We just don’t know enough about the results to draw any hard and fast conclusions about either gender as they deal with illness and problems in marriage. However, experience is a great teacher and our law firm has learned many valuable lessons in our years of helping people through the divorce process.

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