Is Alzheimer's Grounds for Divorce?


Family attorneys in Pasadena have heard just about every passionate debate for and against divorce that one can imagine. But when this whole Pat Robertson/Alzheimer's divorce drama exploded last week, we have to say we were surprised. The televangelist stirred up controversy recently when he told a man that he should divorce his wife, who is afflicted with Alzheimer's. Now everybody - Alzheimer's advocates, religious folks and even divorce lawyers - have something to say about it.

The brouhaha started when Robertson spoke to a caller on his long-running program "The 700 Club." The caller wanted advice for a friend whose wife is battling Alzheimer's. Pat told the caller, "This is a terribly hard thing. I hate Alzheimer's. It is one of the most awful things, because here's the loved one - this is the woman or man that you have loved for 20, 30, 40 years, and suddenly that person is gone. I know it sounds cruel," he continued, "but if he's going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again, but to make sure she has custodial care, somebody looking after her."

So much for "in sickness and in health." It only took a few hours for the world to react to Robertson's comment. Religious leaders thought his comment negated the sanctity of marriage while some in the Alzheimer's community understood Robertson's point of view but called his comments "misguided." Others were perturbed by Robertson's stereotyping of Alzheimer's patients as "gone" and essentially dead.

Our take on the whole thing? Doctors are quick to point out that with proper care, sufferers of Alzheimer's can live up to 25 years after their initial diagnosis, so using it solely as grounds for divorce seems a bit weak. Chronic disorders, diseases and illnesses are a huge strain on marriages. As we've seen, few couples survive battles with cancer or other illnesses unscathed. That being said, suggesting a divorce during a battle with Alzheimer's is awful, and awfully extreme.