Spousal Abandonment & Divorce

Despite wedding vows that promise to stay together in sickness and health, many couples end up getting divorced if one of them falls ill. One spouse being diagnosed with a major illness or chronic disease can increase the risk of divorce. Although men are statistically more likely to get sick than women, studies show that men leaving their wives occurs much more often than the reverse.

What Is Spousal Abandonment?

Spousal abandonment, also called marital abandonment or desertion, is when one spouse leaves a marriage without warning, justification or the consent of the other spouse. It typically involves the leaving spouse cutting off all contact with the other spouse, deliberately severing all ties with no intention of returning to the marriage.

Spousal abandonment can leave the abandoned party feeling confused, hurt and betrayed. It may also constitute a crime, depending on the circumstances. Abandoning an ailing dependent spouse and refusing to care for the patient financially could be considered criminal spousal abandonment in California.

Do Men Leave Their Wives More Frequently When Seriously Ill?

Research from the University of Michigan found that 31 percent of marriages that involve physical illnesses end in divorce. The research found that more men than women develop serious health problems over time, but more men leave their sick wives. This means women are doubly vulnerable to marital dissolution connected to illnesses: they are more likely to become widowed and more likely to be abandoned if they get ill.

Significantly more husbands leave their wives compared to wives leaving husbands after a diagnosis of a serious illness such as cancer or heart failure. A study from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center found that women are six times more likely to get divorced or separated shortly after a diagnosis of cancer or multiple sclerosis than if the man was the patient. The overall rate for marital dissolution among cancer patients is about 12 percent.

The rate of divorce when the woman is the cancer patient is 20.8 percent, while the rate when the man has cancer is just 2.9 percent. Gender was the strongest predictor of dissolution in each patient group studied. The Cancer Research Center study also found that the odds of spousal abandonment decreased with the number of years the couple was married.

Why Are Men So Much More Likely to Leave Women If They Are Sick?

Studies of hundreds of married couples and spousal abandonment cases have shown that certain issues or perceptions are often behind why men are more likely to leave women in relationships involving chronic illnesses. Although every couple and case are unique, some of the most common explanations include:

  • Relative lack of ability to make rapid adjustments and commitment. Compared to women, men are less able to quickly adjust to life as a caregiver or life with a sick spouse.
  • It can be difficult for men to take on the burden of maintaining a home. With wives as the primary caregivers in most relationships, it can be difficult to reverse the roles and for men to take on home, career, family and caregiver responsibilities.
  • The social stigma of male caretakers. It may be too hard for a husband to overcome social stigmas and gender norms when forced to become a caregiver, leading to abandonment.
  • Divorced men may have more choices in prospective new partners than women. Studies show it is easier for a divorced male to find a new partner than a divorced female. This fact may make the decision to leave easier for the husband.

In California, it is not necessary to prove spousal abandonment or fault to get a divorce. California is a no-fault state, in which you only need to cite your irreconcilable differences to get a divorce. If you are dealing with a case of spousal abandonment connected to an illness or for no reason at all, consult with a divorce attorney in Orange County for legal advice. A divorce attorney can list your legal options and help you through this difficult time.