How courts deal with divorced couples when one partner is chronically ill

Posted: Saturday July 21 2018

By: Vanessa Fox

How courts deal with divorced couples when one partner is chronically ill

By Vanessa Fox

In traditional marriage vows, couples pledge to stay together ‘in sickness and health’.

So how does chronic illness – a very common component in divorce – impact on separation and divorce?

Long terms conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus, Motor Neurone Disease and ME not only affect people physically but often mentally and can create tensions and difficulties. They can likewise have a far reaching impact on issues relating to finance and children.
Those living with these illnesses may sometimes find their partner unsympathetic, unsupportive and impatient with the effects of their condition. In our experience, their partners can also resent how long term health issues absorb their loved ones.

If the relationship ends, and there are court proceedings about finances or children, how does the court deal with a case which involves someone living with chronic illness?

Those with long term health conditions are entitled to ask the court to consider their ability to work – it is part of the criteria that the court has to consider. Such a person may fare better than an able bodied person in terms of any capital split as they often do not have the ability to work for as long as their partner and may have less pension rights.

People with a limited life span may find that that this unpalatable issue is raised. There may be little point in splitting a pension if the other person is not going to live to enjoy it. When pensions are split, and the recipient of the split dies, pensions are lost to the family. In some cases, dependent children lose out on financial support.
However, the terminally ill are still entitled to their fair split of the family assets to leave to children or family if they wish. I had one client who was in a home with very debilitating MS but met a new partner visiting the home and had a very happy life with her new partner once the assets were split – albeit for a relatively short time. Everyone is entitled to be happy if the court can manage it – even if the time is limited for them to enjoy life.

Someone with serious long term limitations on their employability or mobility is also entitled to ask the court to consider the care needs they will have once the marriage has ended. This can involve a report from an occupational therapist.

If a house has been adapted for the person with the health issue, the court may feel it is important for that person to keep the home. However the needs of any children also have to be considered.
These situations are very difficult for the court to consider and make a decision. These cases always need careful and thoughtful handling by the solicitor representing each partner. There have to be difficult discussions both in court and out of court, in which unhappy outcomes need to be considered carefully so the importance of having the right representation cannot be understated.

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