Divorce & Physical Health

by Heather Frances J.D. Google
Spouses' physical health may change the terms of a divorce.

Spouses' physical health may change the terms of a divorce.

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Divorce -- and the stress from it -- may negatively impact a person’s physical health, but a spouse’s physical health and disabilities can also effect the divorce itself. Issues like child custody, property distribution and alimony can all be affected by a party's health. Additionally, if one ex-spouse becomes disabled after the divorce, some provisions in the divorce decree may be modified to address the disability.

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Custody laws vary slightly between states, but divorce courts make custody decisions based on the best interests of the child involved. The physical health of each parent is one of the factors many courts consider when addressing the child’s best interests. However, a parent’s physical health may or may not impact custody depending on whether the illness has a direct effect on the parent’s ability to care for her child. When a parent has a more serious physical disability that may inhibit her from taking care of her child, the court might award greater custody rights to the other parent.

Property Distribution

Divorce courts also consider multiple factors when determining how marital property should be distributed between spouses. Generally, these factors include the age and physical condition or health of the spouses. A chronically ill or disabled spouse may require a greater portion of marital assets to get by after the divorce or to make the transition from married to single. However, this is only one of many factors most courts consider before making a property distribution.


Alimony, or spousal support, is an award of periodic payments or a lump-sum payment from one spouse to another to help the supported spouse maintain her lifestyle or support herself after the divorce. Courts are more likely to award alimony to a spouse with physical health problems, particularly if those problems prevent her from working or earning a reasonable living. Judges may also consider each spouse’s expenses and needs, including anticipated medical expenses from one spouse’s health problems.

Post-Divorce Modifications

If a spouse that is paying alimony or child support becomes seriously ill or disabled after divorce, he may not be able to maintain his job or otherwise earn enough money to continue to pay the level of support ordered in his divorce decree. The ill spouse may petition the court, asking for a modification to the support amounts in light of his illness or disability. Courts may change the required support amount when the paying spouse’s economic circumstances have significantly changed since the divorce.