“In sickness and in health” may have been in wedding vows. However, when a spouse develops a serious chronic illness or disability, that vow can become impossible to keep. When one spouse becomes the other’s long-term caregiver, their relationship changes.
Further, many chronic conditions like dementia can drastically change a person’s personality. They may not even recognize you. A disability, whether caused by a medical condition like multiple sclerosis or ALS or by a catastrophic injury, can also change a person into someone you no longer recognize.
The decision to divorce a spouse with a chronic, disabling and/or fatal health condition is a deeply personal one and likely has been reached only after considerable thought and possibly therapy. No one should make you feel guilty about it. You need to look out for your own well-being and, if you have children, theirs. There are some special considerations, however. Let’s look at a few.
Caregiving and insurance
Your spouse will likely need new caregiving arrangements unless they already have a full-time caregiver. If they’ve been relying on your insurance, they’ll need to get other coverage.
Finances and support
Any serious medical condition comes with massive medical costs in addition, often, to caregiver expenses and the costs of home modifications and special equipment. Your spouse may be unable to work, which means their only income may be disability benefits. Your own income may be limited if you’ve been their primary caregiver.
These things are all going to affect your financial settlement in divorce. You may be required to pay spousal support. As with any divorce settlement, a court will want to ensure that you both have some financial stability.
If you have minor children, your spouse may not be able to care for them on their own. This will affect what type of custody and visitation plan you can work seek. They may also not be in any position to pay child support.
Every situation is, of course, highly unique. Whether you’re still considering or have already decided to divorce, it’s wise to consult with one or more medical doctors, mental health professionals, financial advisors and of course to get sound legal guidance. Certainly, you have to be cautious about talking to anyone who is treating or otherwise knows your spouse before you talk to them. Remember that you’re still likely going to be involved in your spouse’s life, so you’ll still need all the support you can get.