Divorce After A Traumatic Brain Injury

Last Updated on September 18, 2023 by Lori Pace

Serious injuries put stress on accident victims and their families. People fear how the injuries might affect the victim’s finances and ability to care for themselves and others. And these fears can strain relationships.

Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are especially difficult to accept. The body cannot regrow brain cells, so TBIs often produce permanent changes in the accident victim. Therapy might help the injured person regain some functions, but it requires investments of time and money for an uncertain outcome.

Divorce Statistics

These relationship strains are most apparent in marriages, which can evolve, deteriorate, or even end.

The divorce rate in the U.S. increased steadily from 1960 to 1980. After 1980, the rate declined slowly until about 2009. Since 2009, the rate has dropped quickly and is roughly the same as in 1970.

In any one year, three out of 1,000 married couples will file for divorce. Over a marriage’s lifetime, there is a 41% chance it will end in divorce.

This statistic is slightly misleading because people can marry and divorce multiple times. One person divorcing two different spouses gets counted the same as two couples divorcing once.

Still, the number of divorces filed is staggeringly high. In Florida alone, about 60,000 divorce cases get filed each year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Brain Injury Statistics

Over 223,000 people required hospitalization for a TBI in 2019. This number does not include those who experienced mild TBIs that did not require admission to a hospital. It also does not include undiagnosed TBIs. Even with these caveats, hospitals admitted over 600 Americans per day for TBIs in 2019.

Older people have a higher risk of sustaining TBIs than younger people. Accident victims 75 years or older account for over 30% of TBI patients. Males are twice as likely to require hospitalization for a TBI as females.

The most common causes of TBIs include:

These three causes account for roughly 70% of TBIs in Florida.

Effects of a Traumatic Brain Injury

TBIs can take many different forms and produce many different symptoms. Some types of TBIs include:


A layer of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) cushions your brain. Under normal forces, the CSF prevents your brain from striking the inside of your skull the same way bubble wrap protects the contents of a box.

But when you experience severe forces, like an impact from a fall or the whipping forces from a car accident, the CSF must exert enormous pressure on your brain to slow its motion. This pressure damages the brain cells and causes your brain to become inflamed.

As your brain swells and its temperature increases, you may experience:

  • Headache
  • Blurry vision
  • Tinnitus
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Memory loss
  • Drowsiness
  • Clumsiness

These symptoms often subside within two months. However, under some circumstances, victims experience long-term post-concussion syndromes. 

These symptoms can include:

  • Personality changes
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Angry outbursts

As you might appreciate, these symptoms can take a toll on the accident victim’s spouse.


Under extreme forces, the CSF cannot slow the brain enough to prevent it from hitting the inside of your skull. When it strikes the skull, the small blood vessels in the brain rupture and the brain develops a bruise or contusion.

The bleeding deprives the brain cells of oxygen, causing them to die. The leaking blood also squeezes the brain, cutting off the blood flow through intact blood vessels.

A contusion will cause permanent brain damage. 

The exact symptoms will depend on the location of the brain lesion and may include:

Sometimes, a contusion can cause a coma or a persistent vegetative state.

Anoxic Injuries

Anoxic injuries happen when the brain is deprived of oxygen. Like all cells, brain cells require oxygen for cell metabolism. But unlike other cells, your body cannot regrow dead brain cells. After four minutes without oxygen, your brain will suffer permanent brain damage.

These injuries can result from:

  • Drowning
  • Asphyxiation
  • Poisoning
  • Overdose
  • Severe bleeding

These injuries can cause various physical, cognitive, and emotional symptoms. These symptoms might include:

  • Shortened attention span
  • Difficulty understanding and solving problems
  • Learning disabilities
  • Loss of coordination

As a result of these difficulties, an accident victim might have trouble working or training for a new job.

Divorce Rates Among TBI Survivors

TBI survivors and their spouses face significant challenges. TBIs cause debilitating symptoms, including changes in personality and emotional regulation. Some spouses even feel that the TBI survivor is no longer the person they married.

Additionally, a TBI can cause temporary or permanent disabilities. Without the ability to work, the victim and their family could face substantial financial difficulties. On top of the income losses, the family faces medical bills for expensive medical treatment, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and mental health counseling.

Given these problems, divorces for TBI survivors and their spouses seem justified. Money problems, growing apart, and communication problems typically top the list of reasons for divorce, and all of these problems can develop after a TBI.

Several studies have looked at divorce rates for TBI survivors. One study found divorce rates as high as 78%.

Follow-up studies did not find the same extraordinarily high divorce rate. But even the most optimistic study found that TBI survivors and their spouses divorce about 2% more often than other couples. 

Some of the factors that increased the risk of divorce in this study included:

  • Youth, with younger couples more likely to divorce than older couples
  • Severity, with severe TBIs more likely to cause divorce than mild TBIs
  • Duration, with shorter marriages more likely to end than longer marriages

Thus, TBIs act like most marital problems. The couples most likely to make it through a TBI are those who are more mature, have more time together, and face less severe obstacles.

A Traumatic Brain Injury Can Lead To Divorce

Happy marriages never end in divorce. Many factors can contribute to a spouse’s unhappiness. Rather than bringing spouses together, the problems presented by TBIs can break couples apart and lead to divorce.

Lori Pace
Lori Pace

Lori Pace is a single mother of three daughters ages 7 and under. As a working mom from home, she balances kids, work and two crazy dogs with humor and love. Follow Lori as she honestly gives tips and advice based on her own experiences as a single mom!