How to find a divorce lawyer in Cape Town, South Africa

Fatal illness & divorce

I had a 52 year old male client recently who had suffered from a severe heart attack as a result of continuous stress and arguing with his wife. One day after quite a bit of arguing with his wife he had been invited to go hiking with friends in the mountains close to Fishhoek. He suddenly collapsed and had to be airlifted to hospital. This prompted him to come and see me to institute a divorce action against his wife. The last words which his wife had yelled at him before he had left home that day to go hiking were “I hope you die”.

Another one of my clients, this time a female from the Table View area, experienced similar problems with her husband. Her husband drank a bottle of wine each night according to my client, and then became verbally abusive towards my client. One night she went to bed after quite a bit of arguing with her husband, and when she woke up she could not breathe. She told her husband that she was having a heart attack and that he should take her to the hospital. He told her to keep quiet and that he wasn’t interested in assisting her. Only eventually did he take her to the hospital just in time and her life was saved.

Arguing in marriages between spouses as in the abovementioned cases of mine can place a great deal of stress on a person’s health. Some people opt out of the marriage when they are experiencing health problems.

A famous Hollywood case of a sick partner wanting out of the marriage is the case Hopper v Hopper. Denis Hopper, a 73 year old actor, filed for divorce from the former Victoria Duffy, 42, his wife of 13 years, in the midst of his life or death battle against metastasized cancer. One of Duffy’s claims was that he was not in his right mind. What is particularly interesting about the Hopper case is that in this case it is the sick partner that wants out, and sometimes it is the other way around.

One attorney commented that there are three grown Hopper children who were born before this marriage. Mr Hopper had married a few times in his life. He did however also have a 6 year old child with Victoria Duffy. An attorney from Michigan states that it is quite common when couples marry later in life and one party develops an illness, for the adult children to encourage divorce action to be instituted.

Studies have shown that couples facing cancer have about the same chance of divorcing as healthy couples, women with brain tumours or multiple sclerosis are six times more likely to be left by their spouses than men with the same condition are, according to a 2009 report in the journal Cancer. In a Norwegian study from 2007, 1.6% of male cancer patients got divorced, while nearly 3% of females did.

There are many different views and opinions on whether it is best to get divorced if you are suffering from a life threatening illness. One of the biggest reasons against this would be if there is a minor child involved. The minor child would then have to suffer a great deal more grief experiencing the divorce of his parents as well as going through a fatal illness with his/her parents. It would not in such a case be in the interests of the minor child for his or her parents to get divorced.

In a situation where a married couple has been separated for a substantial period of time, such as ten years or longer and one party suddenly had a severe illness, divorce would be a favourable option. In such a case the marriage has clearly broken down irretrievably due to the long period of time apart. It would therefore make no difference to the party who has the illness as to whether he/she should get divorced or not. If that person did get divorced, this would at least afford him or her the opportunity to sort out his or her estate and make sure that his or her estate doesn’t devolve to his or her spouse who he or she hasn’t seen in years.

I am personally of the opinion that once a marriage has broken down irretrievably, divorce is always the next best step. This could be when the parties are young and healthy, or even unfortunately when they are suffering from a severe illness or ailment.

article written by Cape Town divorce law specialist, Peter M Baker

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