I've Become a Caregiver for My Spouse – and I Want a Divorce

When you’re a spouse’s caregiver, the quality of your relationship can suffer, often dramatically. While you want to uphold the vows of “in sickness and in health” you made the day you got married, the weight of that responsibility and the emotional toll it takes can be staggering. 

Your spouse has changed, you have changed, and your marriage has changed. You deserve happiness and balance in your life, but you’re looking at a situation that is unlikely to change. What can you do if you’re the primary caregiver for your physically or mentally disabled spouse but you want a future for yourself?

Educate yourself

No divorce is easy, but divorcing a spouse who relies on your care can be one of the most emotionally challenging situations possible. Your marriage has endured its ups and downs, and you’ve been there every moment. It would be easier if you felt that your situation could improve, but under the circumstances, you may be looking at a caretaking role that could last for the rest of your spouse’s life. 

As a caregiver, you might feel guilty for even considering a divorce. But you also know that if you stay, it will consume your life, and you may end up feeling angry and resentful. 

Each state has its own distinct divorce laws. This is especially true when one spouse is mentally or physically challenged. From division of assets to spousal support, the specifics of these laws vary depending on where you live. 

If you are considering a divorce as a caregiver, it’s important to understand your responsibilities and options and plan accordingly. 

Consult an attorney

When divorcing a physically or mentally challenged spouse, the situation is likely to be emotionally charged. But many legal considerations exist, too. These legalities must be discussed and decisions made. It’s critical to have a divorce lawyer or similar professional by your side who understands divorce in these sensitive situations. 

What do we mean, specifically? Divorcing your spouse when you are their primary caregiver can have many ramifications regarding government benefits, tax consequences, insurance benefits, child custody, and spousal support. Given all of this, it’s important to get the help and advice of a family law attorney who can help you understand your support obligations as well as your rights under the laws of your state. 

Read: Divorce Involving Spouses with Special Needs

You also must consider things like advance directives, powers of attorney, wills, trusts, life insurance policies, and tax implications when divorcing a disabled spouse. As such, you may also want to include an estate planning attorney in your conversations. 

Consult a financial advisor

Divorce can have a significant impact on you financially, especially in the case of a disabled spouse.  

Although many benefits may be available to your spouse after your divorce, these benefits may not be enough to provide for their care. The court may look to you to make up for that. If your spouse cannot care for themselves physically, mentally, or financially, you may be expected to make up for any financial shortfall. Understanding your own potential financial exposure in a divorce scenario is critical.

Consulting with your own financial advisor or a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) can help you understand your financial rights and potential post-divorce obligations so you understand the full economic impact of your actions. 

Talk about your intentions with your spouse

Although this will be difficult, your spouse deserves to know and understand (if possible) what you are considering since it affects them.

If your spouse is able to have this conversation, there are kind and loving ways to discuss divorce. But before you do that, you should get clear in your own mind how you want the discussion to go.

  • Can you reframe your divorce as a new type of relationship? One where you will be there for them under certain circumstances? This may allow you to be a better friend and support system to them rather than an unhappy spouse.
  • How can you communicate your wishes based on your spouse’s disability? How much will they understand? If your spouse has dementia, they may not understand your wish to divorce or why. You may want to put it as lovingly as possible in written form so they can revisit it if needed.
  • Choose your words and timing carefully. After all, you’ve probably shared many years together, and you will want to be intentional with your discussion and not slip into anger or frustration.
  • Explain what your new living arrangements and relationship will look like post-divorce. This includes explaining what role you might play. Let them know they will be loved and supported by many other people going forward. 

Make care arrangements

Your spouse’s safety and care are important considerations for you as you navigate divorce and beyond. Taking into account your spouse’s abilities, you will need to make important decisions about their personal care and safety. 

How functional is your spouse? Considering their disability, they may need additional care and services. If you’ve been doing it all, you may need to find a full-time caregiver or even an assisted living home or nursing home to take your place. 

Consider asking friends, family members, and neighbors to become part of their expanded support group so they have others beside you to rely on. You may also need to consider professional services paid by Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security Disability Insurance, or private funds.  

Understand that a guardian or conservator may be appointed by the court to make decisions on behalf of your spouse. This is more likely to happen if your spouse can’t make decisions on their own, there is no other family, or other family members can’t agree on the care that may be needed. 

Check your healthcare and legal documents

Divorcing a spouse with a disability can affect many things, including their healthcare coverage and other legal designations. 

Your spouse may have been relying on your health insurance for their medical care, but they may be unable to continue on an employer’s policy after your divorce. If your spouse doesn’t qualify for government benefits to provide them with health insurance coverage, you may be required to provide health insurance for them. 

You and your spouse may be each others' medical and financial powers of attorney. You must also consider any wills, living trusts, or beneficiary designations for documents you created together during your marriage. 

Getting legal advice is paramount when you are considering a divorce from a disabled spouse to ensure your – and their – protection and well-being. 

While divorce is rarely easy, divorcing a spouse when you have been their primary caretaker takes on a new level of complexity. Before you make any decisions, you should completely understand how the divorce will impact you and your spouse.

Do you need help with your divorce case? At Hello Divorce, we have a staff of legal and related divorce services professionals who can explain your rights and responsibilities and guide you through the divorce process. Schedule a free call to learn more. 

Suggested: Divorce with Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease

Divorce Content Specialist
Mediation, Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Mental Health
Candice is a former paralegal and has spent the last 16 years in the digital landscape, writing website content, blog posts, and articles for the legal industry. Now, at Hello Divorce, she is helping demystify the complex legal and emotional world of divorce. Away from the keyboard, she’s a devoted wife, mom, and grandmother to two awesome granddaughters who are already forces to be reckoned with. Based in Florida, she’s an avid traveler, painter, ceramic artist, and self-avowed bookish nerd.