In Sickness and in Health …How Chronic Illness Impacts on Divorce and Separation

Vanessa Fox
Partner and Head of
Family Law
hlw Keeble Hawson

Chronic illness is a very common component in divorce – and can have a far reaching impact on issues relating to finance and children.

Long terms conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis, lupus, Motor Neurone Disease not only affect people physically but often mentally and can create tensions and difficulties.

Those living with these illnesses may sometimes find their partner unsympathetic, unsupportive and impatient with the effects of their condition. In our experience, 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 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 capital split as they do not have the ability to work and acquire pension rights.

People with a limited life span may find that that this unpalatable issue is raised. There is no point 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 the 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 and had a very happy life with him once the assets were split – albeit for a fairly 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 issues is also entitled to ask the court to consider the care needs they will have once the marriage has ended. This can involve an occupational health report being compiled.

If a house has been adapted for the person with the health issue, the court may feel it is important for them to keep it. However the needs of any children also have to be considered.

These situations are very hard and need careful and thoughtful handling by the court – and by the solicitor representing each partner.

They require difficult conversations in which unhappy outcomes need to be considered carefully so the importance of having the right representation cannot be understated.

Click here for more articles by Vanessa Fox

About Vanessa

hlw Keeble Hawson partner, Vanessa Fox, has been head of the firm’s family law department since 1991.

The latest edition of the Legal 500 Guide praises Vanessa for her ‘broad knowledge of finance and childcare, and for her passion for collaboration; she is efficient, caring and robust’.

Collaboratively trained and a qualified mediator, Vanessa is a former chair of South Yorkshire Resolution and a member of the Law Society’s Family Law Panel and the Children Panel.

She can be contacted on 0114 290 6232 or at

Feature Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

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