The Difficult Decisions: Dementia and Divorce

Year Published: 2019

In 2014 the Alzheimer’s Society published a study on the increasing prevalence of dementia in the UK. It found that 1 in 14 of the population aged over 65 are suffering with dementia and 40,000 people living in the UK have early-onset dementia. These statistics raise many questions about the care available for patients but what about the other side of the coin? Can struggling spouses separate from someone with dementia and is divorce the only option available to them?

Dementia causes problems with memory, logical thinking, expression and language which often begins in a mild form but may develop into severe symptoms that can drastically alter a loved one’s personality. Those suffering with dementia may become aggressive and easily frustrated which can be difficult for those in the family home to both witness and live with day to day.

You may be finding it hard to cope with the reality of living with someone with dementia. You both may have discussed what your retirement would be like and dementia may have made these plans impossible. It could have also affected every part of the spouse you once knew and you could be feeling uncomfortable living in the same house as your spouse due to their behaviour. It may also not be suitable for your spouse to remain living at home if their condition deteriorates to the point of needing round the clock care.

It is normal in these circumstances to feel a strain in the marriage and some may even contemplate separation. This can be a consideration that engenders guilt with many choosing to seek additional help and carry on whilst others simply cannot see a way out and feel separation is their only option. It is important at this point that you utilise the advice available from organisations such as Dementia UK, your local authority or a solicitor.

Your options

If you are currently struggling to cope at home and would like some advice on care options available or advice on care fees a specialist solicitor will be able to advise you of your options. For some, it may be a case of needing additional support and advice to ease some of the burden at home.

If you’re considering separation or worried about protecting assets which are jointly owned, it is recommended to seek the advice of a family solicitor who can advise you of the options available. These include, but are not limited to:

Judicial separation

Judicial separation is not a divorce but does allow you to start financial proceedings. This may be suitable for those who are concerned about their joint assets being vulnerable due to the behaviour of the spouse who has lost mental capacity. Judicial separation would mean that a court can divide assets in the same way the court would do in divorce proceedings, save for pension sharing orders. This is an option for those wanting to protect assets but do not wish to file divorce proceedings right away.


If you believe that your only option is divorce and your spouse lacks capacity to represent themselves, your spouse must have a litigation friend to represent them in the proceedings. If there is nobody suitable, an application can be made to the court to appoint a litigation friend. This is because the court would view the parties having unequal positions if the spouse suffering with dementia represented themselves. It is imperative to seek advice on this particular issue.

For more information on the options available or advice on caring for someone with dementia, please contact Genevieve Powrie in our Elderly, Care & Mental Capacity team or Cheryl Haywood in our Family Law team on 0161 475 7676.

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