New Study Proves Infertility Doesn’t Increase the Risk of Divorce


Here at Hylton-Potts, we’re sensitive to the fact that there are many reasons why a marriage might break down. Despite the fact that the divorce courts these days make rulings based on where the fault lies, we’re seen first-hand that there can be a lot of stresses, anxieties and painful circumstances in relationships which can contribute to a split, so often there’s no fault to identify.

However, a new study has proved that, infertility treatment which was thought to be a major contributing factor, actually has no bearing on divorce risk. The results of this research were recently presented at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Geneva. It suggested that the actual process of treatment, however distressing, does not increase the risk of divorce or separation.

In today’s blog post, we’ll discuss this study in more depth, and consider what it means for divorcing couples up and down the country.

What’s the study?

Over the course of 16 years (between 1994 and 2009), 42,845 women were monitored regarding their relationship status before and after receiving assisted reproduction treatment (ART) in Denmark. The control group used as a comparison, was comprised of women from the general population. Although based on Danish data, the results had repercussions for people the world over, as the scientists, led by Dr Mariana Martins from the University of Porto, unearthed two major findings.

For one, over the 16-year period, over 50% of the women had a child with their spouse, but a fifth (20%) of all women ended their relationship. This was a similar figure (22%) for the control group, meaning that the risk of divorcing is no higher in people who receive ART, than it is in every other individual.

However, the second finding was that for those couples who were unable to conceive a child, the risk of divorce did increase following the treatment. From this they gathered that childlessness following ART has more of an influence on divorce than the stress of such a treatment and all the procedures involved.

The hope in publishing these results is that it will encourage more parents to undergo such treatment if they are unsuccessful in natural conception, as, up until now, there has been a long-held belief that couples risk ruining their relationship from the upset and worry it causes. Interestingly, the only shift with this seemed to be where couples were already stressed and anxious prior to beginning the treatment, who would be more likely to break up afterwards. However, it’s more likely this is due to underlying issues within the marriage.

Due to these new findings, it’s been suggested that there should now be a movement in the way couples are counselled through treatments like ART, such as helping them to manage stress easier and helping them to cope with disappointment should the treatment fail. Dr Mariana Martins commented: “We have previously found that subjects who divorce, re-partner and come back to treatment are the ones that five years before had the most stress. We also know that despite all the strain that this infertility can bring, going through ART can actually bring benefit to a couple’s relationship, because it forces them to improve communication and coping strategies.

“We believe that providing couples with appropriate knowledge and expectations about success rates, and the burden that ART can bring to a marriage, will make that treatment much easier for most couples. Our results will be reassuring for couples who have had or are contemplating IVF. Findings on the security of relationships and parenthood can be particularly helpful in supporting patients’ commitment to treatment.”

What does it mean for me?

In the past, this has been a grey area for people to comment on. Many studies have focused on the psychological impact of infertility rather than a direct study of the couple’s relationships. This was always thought to have a direct correlation with a marriage breakdown, as it was thought that the treatment would cause such deep, emotional distress and anxiety that it would put “intolerable strain” on a relationship.

Here though, it’s analysing real people’s lives rather than theory, and while it’s great news that couples struggling to have a child will be given new hope, it could also add more power to the legal argument for no-fault divorce.

In the past, we’ve spoken about how important it is that the judicial procedures in the UK move with the times, and nowhere does it seem more archaic than when considering divorce. The fact that guilt needs to be established simply isn’t realistic when put in the context of how relationships work – we know from experience the number of couples that simply fall out of love with one another, or go through stressful periods in their lives in which irreparable damage was done to the relationship.

We completely understand how painful such a process can be, and of course that the blame often lies at no one’s door. It’s possible with such evidence as this speaking out in support of the argument, that we may see more fuel added to the fire, pushing forward in the name of a no-fault divorce procedure. This would help many couples to end their suffering in a broken marriage a lot sooner than they would now, as couples must live separately for 2 years with spousal consent, or 5 years if this consent is not given, in order to divorce.

It could be that you’re considering divorcing your spouse and would like some honest guidance. Or perhaps you’re in a similar position to the one detailed above, currently tied to your partner in a separation period, wanting to understand your position. Whatever stage of divorce proceedings you’re currently at, if you’re unsure of where you stand our dedicated team is always on hand to give you advice. You can call us on 020 7381 8111, or email us at law@hylton-potts.com.

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