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A Child’s Cancer Diagnosis Does Not Increase Risk of Divorce


Many people assume that having a sick child increases the risk of parents going through divorce. The theory seems to be that the added stress of the illness eventually breaks down the marital bond, possibly at least for those couples who were struggling in their relationship before their child’s diagnosis.

An interesting study out of Denmark shows that, when it comes to a cancer diagnosis, parents were not more likely to divorce. Still, a child’s illness is a difficult event for everybody, and parents should prioritize working on their relationship.

Lower Risk for Separation or Divorce

This study was reported in US News. Danish researchers looked at 12,400 parents who had children diagnosed with cancer at any point from 1982 to 2014 and compared their divorce rates to 70,000 parents whose children did not have a cancer diagnosis. Researchers made sure to follow up with the couple 10 years after the diagnosis to identify whether the couple had separated or divorced.

Somewhat surprisingly, researchers found that parents whose child had been diagnosed with cancer had a lower risk for divorce and separation—4% and 8% lower, respectively—compared to parents whose children were cancer-free.

Of course, some parents still divorced or separated. But the primary risk factors were unemployment, less education, or being younger in age. These are risk factors for any couple that has recently been married.

Are the Results in the US the Same?

There are good reasons to be skeptical whether a survey of U.S. parents would generate the same results. For one, the United States does not have universal health insurance the way Denmark does, and we know from other research that financial stress is a big reason why couples divorce. If parents lack health insurance, then they could feel tremendous anxiety about how they will obtain medical care for their children.

Although the U.S. recently passed the Affordable Care Act, health insurance is still patchy for many people, especially those moving in and out of the workforce. A similar study analyzing Norway found no increased risk of divorce, either. But, again, this is not a study of the United States.

Alleviating Stress

The anxiety parents feel can be overwhelming, but there are steps parents can take to manage the stress. First, obtain health insurance if you do not already have it. In Pennsylvania, low-income people can obtain health insurance for their children either through Medicaid or through the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). There are other options, including the Affordable Care Act exchanges. With insurance in place, financial stressors will be lessened.

Second, keep the lines of communication open with your spouse. The National Cancer Institute recommends keeping in touch daily, with something as small as a text message.

Third, join a support group. If you don’t know where one is offered, ask the hospital, which might have information. Meeting with other parents who have a child with cancer can help make you feel less alone.

Media Divorce Attorneys

Not all marriages survive a child’s illness. If you suspect that divorce or separation are possibilities, contact one of our Media divorce lawyers today. Barbara Flum Stein & Associates can discuss your legal options if you schedule a consultation.








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