Atlanta, GA- Researchers have long studied the effects divorce has health, but far less research has been done to see how illness impacts divorce until now. In a new study of older married couples, researchers found that when a wife gets seriously ill, the couples risk of divorce rises.

In the study, researchers looked at how four serious illnesses, cancer, lung disease, heart disease and stroke affected the marriages of participating couples, and found that 31 percent of couples divorced after the onset of an illness. In fifteen percent of cases, it is the wife who got ill, according to Live Science.

Study researcher Amelia Karraker, of the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, said, “When the wives became ill, about 50 percent of the marriages ended in divorce.” Karraker added, “We have strong prior [evidence] that there would be a gendered component to this, that it would be more likely that a wife’s illness would be more strongly associated with divorce than a husband’s. But it’s encouraging to see it borne out in data.”

Who initiated the divorce was not examined in this study, but Karraker said previous studies indicate that women are more likely to do so. The study didn’t examine why women seek divorce when they get ill, but Karraker believes that men are less likely to satisfactorily fulfill their roles as caregivers so women rely on friends and family for their care.

If the man initiates divorce, the researchers said it is likely he is seeking a healthier partner.

Karraker said lawmakers should be made aware of the effects illness has on divorce as health care costs for the aging population are increasing.

“If a divorced woman suffers from a serious illness, it is likely she will have to rely on an outside caregiver, which can be very expensive and may not be entirely covered by Medicare or other insurance,”Karraker told Live Science.

For the study, researchers analyzed data from 2,700 heterosexual couples in which at least one partner was at least 50 years-old over a 20-year period.

The study will be presented at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America on May 1st, and hasn’t been peer reviewed yet.

This study could explain one of the reasons why the divorce rate among baby boomers is increasing at a higher rate than their younger counterparts. Since 1990, there has been a threefold increase in divorce rates among couples aged 60 to 65. Over 65, the divorce rate increases five-fold. In contrast, the divorce rate among younger couples is decreasing.

Divorce is no longer the taboo that it used to be and older couples no longer feel obliged to stay in an unhappy marriage simply because society says they have too.

The decision to leave a spouse is not an easy one to make but the process of divorce doesn’t have to be as painful and distressing as the decision. A divorce attorney can guide a couple through this difficult time and protect their interests in the process.