Epilepsy’s International Impact on Divorce

  • Many countries used to have laws regarding epilepsy and marriage validity.
  • Spousal discord and infidelity can be a result from symptoms caused by one spouse having suffered from epilepsy and seizures.
  • Studies have shown that medical conditions can cause divorce, but it's dishonest to generalize that all who divorce with medical conditions, did so because of them.

The stresses that can be put on a marriage are so complex and varied, that it can often be difficult to put their lasting impact into words. In cases where health conditions play a factor in the division, the mental and emotional effect of the decision to divorce cannot be quantified, especially when that health condition is epilepsy.

International impact

Due to specific legal regulations in various countries, epilepsy has a history of being cited in divorce proceedings around the world. Before 1999 in India, a person subjected to recurrent attacks of insanity or epilepsy cannot have a legally valid marriage, and any such marriage shall be voidable, resulting in a divorce. This law changed after the provision was challenged by the Indian Epilepsy Association, according to the neuropsychiatry center, Neurokrish.

At Hirosaki University’s Department of Occupational Therapy in Hirosaki, Japan, they conducted a study that investigated the marital status of patients with epilepsy to clarify the clinical factors impeding improvement of the quality of life in adults with epilepsy. They found that seven of the 29 patients who had experienced divorce were divorced due to their epilepsy. Only one out of the seven had informed their spouses of the disease before the marriage. The other six were witnesses to the disease after marriage, or the disease was revealed by medication.

Threats and risks

Epilepsy has become a topic of discussion in many countries, in how they deal with chronic and mental illness. Often times, the sustainability of one’s life is called into question, and many legislatures believe that a spouse’s future is threatened by the uncertainty of the opposite spouse’s health. This inspired the legislation in many countries, such as India, to ensure that people’s futures are not dictated by the uncertain health of their spouse.

The inspiration behind these types of legislative efforts also has to do with the reproductive risks that are involved with epilepsy. There is a thought process that epilepsy can create infertility, but studies from the Epilepsy Foundation say that while any sort of health outcome can affect one’s abilities to bare children, over 90 percent of women with epilepsy can become pregnant and have healthy children.

Medical factors also impact sexual health, which can create miscommunication among couples that deal with epilepsy. The symptoms can generate mental and emotional health problems that can create seizures. Both counselling and confidential helplines are available for those dealing with the surrounding concerns.

Spousal discord

A spouse dealing with the opposite spouse’s epilepsy was highlighted recently in “Epilepsy and the Family” by Dr. Richard Lechtenberg, a neurologist in New York. He said that the real questions that spouses who face their opposite spouse’s epilepsy is “At what point will I break?”

Because of the sexual problems and miscommunication that can arise after experiencing seizures and having bouts with epilepsy, infidelity can surface. According to Lechtenberg, infidelity can be a consequence of sexual deprivation, and when the nonepileptic spouse turns to a sexual partner outside of the marriage, the epileptic spouse can feel wronged, as opposed to deserted. The spouse without epilepsy can claim provocation, due to the sexual problems within the relationship caused by epilepsy. Lechtenberg claims that infidelity is a more socially acceptable reason for divorce than an inability or unwillingness to cope with epilepsy.

While infidelity may be an issue in some marriages that deal with epilepsy and seizures, there are a variety of issues that pop up within marriages that result in spousal infidelity. A spouse’s medical condition does not give a legal free pass for infidelity or even the nullification of the marriage itself. Both partners need to take responsibility for the issues within their individual relationship and not blame medical conditions for them. After that, they can decide the steps they can take to minimize the impact of these medical issues and how they affect the relationship.

Medical validity

Despite all of the difficulties that surround components of individual relationships and how they interact with epilepsy, the fact remains that there is no medical reason why a person with epilepsy cannot be married. Infidelity and social issues related to possible seizures are not necessarily related to a person’s validity as a spouse. That being said, medical problems can be a cause of the end of a marriage.

The Journal of Health and Social Behaviors did a study that highlighted how in many couples, physical health risks played a factor in their decision to divorce. Physical and chronic illnesses change the game for many couples, but to condemn those seeking divorce during spousal trials with medical conditions negates the complexity of marital dynamics.

Within an individual relationship, there are countless reasons for it to end at any given time, and it does no good to generalize couples with spouses facing medical issues, like epilepsy and seizures, and make their stories fit into your narrative. Medical issues can put physical, mental, emotional, and financial strain on relationships, but it shouldn’t be the reason why marriages would be considered invalid.

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