According to the Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA), more than three million people in the United States are living with a permanent disability because of a traumatic brain injury (TBI). As Lake County divorce attorneys, we know that every year in this nation, about 2.4 million people sustain a serious brain injury. Outpatient therapy can run from $600 to $1,000 a day, and hospital-based rehabilitation costs about $8,000 a day. The direct and indirect cost of traumatic brain injury, including lost productivity, is estimated to be more than $76 billion a year.

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Brain injury victims who have been injured by another person’s negligence should contact a personal injury lawyer, and in Indiana, they can speak with a Lake County personal injury attorney regarding compensation for their injuries. Unfortunately, however, money is not the only thing that may be lost due to a brain injury. If you are married, and you sustain a brain injury – or if your partner sustains a brain injury – are the chances that your marriage will end in a divorce substantially increased? If you are the survivor of a brain injury, or if you are married to a brain injury survivor, are your concerns about whether your marriage is at risk legitimate?

Research in the past has given us some gloomy figures regarding divorce rates after brain injuries. In the 1970s, for example, researchers scrutinized post-brain injury divorce statistics and found that about 40 percent of couples either separated or divorced in the first seven years after a brain injury. Studies released in the 1980s showed alarmingly higher post-brain injury divorce rates ranging from 48 percent to 78 percent.

WHY DO BRAIN INJURIES SOMETIMES LEAD TO DIVORCE?

Of course, any unexpected and serious injury can put a severe strain on a marriage, and there’s no doubt that a traumatic brain injury can be one of the most serious kinds of physical injuries. After a brain injury, the healthy spouse often tries to take on many of the injured spouse’s responsibilities. Unemployment after a brain injury is quite common. Many insurance companies will not pay for necessary therapy, and that adds to the financial stress. A traumatic brain injury also often brings on drastic and unexpected personality changes which can include irritability, depression, and argumentativeness. Spouses married to brain injury survivors may say things like, “I’m married to a stranger.”

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Some researchers, however, found it hard to believe that brain injury patients and their spouses divorce at a rate as high as 78 percent. Because the families of brain injury victims – and injury victims themselves – need the most accurate information possible, researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) looked more carefully at the statistics dealing with marriage and divorce after a brain injury. The VCU researchers learned that many of the earlier studies were conducted in Europe, where divorce and marriage laws are sometimes quite different, and many of those studies also relied on small sample groups which may not accurately reflect larger populations.

Thus, in 2007, the VCU researchers published one of the first comprehensive studies of marriage and divorce after brain injuries. They compiled data from 120 brain injury victims – with mild, moderate, and traumatic brain injuries – who were married when they were injured. All of the survivors had been injured three to eight years earlier, and their average age was 41. At the time of the survey, three-quarters of the survivors (90 out of 120) were still married. In their published research, the authors stated, “The present investigation does not [support] the notion that divorce rates for persons with brain injury are higher than those for the general population.” Furthermore, Palm Springs personal injury lawyer Jeffrey Nadrich feels “there’s much more to the causation of divorce than the presence or event that leads to a brain injury. There’s certainly factors at play that existed prior to the injury that would have most likely resulted in divorce even if the injury never happenend.”

HAVE FURTHER STUDIES BEEN CONDUCTED?

The next year (2008), Virginia Commonwealth University researchers led a national research study to investigate marital stability after brain injuries. Information on marital status was collected from participants at sixteen locations around the country. This was the largest study to date on marriage after brain injuries. The VCU researchers surveyed 977 brain injury victims from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. The research team reported that 85 percent of brain injury survivors remained married for at least two years after the injury.

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The reality, according to the best recent research, is that the rate of divorce after brain injuries may, in fact, be much lower than previously reported and may also be much lower than divorce rates for the general population. It’s welcome and encouraging news. While many couples report more stress and marital difficulty after a brain injury, many other couples say they are connecting with each other in new and constructive ways as they face brain injury-related challenges together. Here are some other important findings from the 2008 research:

  • 17 percent of brain injury survivors were divorced, and 8 percent were separated in the first two years after a brain injury for an overall marital breakdown rate of 25 percent.
  • Male and female brain injury survivors had similar marital breakdown rates.
  • The more serious the brain injury, the greater the likelihood of divorce.
  • Age matters. No participant who was age 60 or older was separated or divorced after a brain injury.
  • The length of a marriage was important too. People who had been married for longer periods of time before a brain injury were more likely to stay married after the injury.

WHAT ARE THE KEYS TO A STRONG MARRIAGE?

More research is needed to help us gain an even better understanding of how brain injuries can affect marriages and what can be done by spouses to preserve and enrich those marital relationships. What’s clear is that by learning to use effective coping strategies, couples can improve their marriages subsequent to a brain injury and build healthy, satisfying relationships. Like any marriage, the keys to success are open lines of communication, a positive attitude, and a willingness to compromise.

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Brain injury patients today have a number of reasons to be hopeful regarding their futures. If a you are a brain injury victim or the spouse of a brain injury victim, your marriage is probably not at risk. A Lake County personal injury attorney can help Indiana brain injury victims obtain the compensation they need if they’ve been injured by negligence. And today, ongoing medical breakthroughs are bringing us a better understanding – and faster, more effective treatment – of many types of brain injuries.