The impact of traumatic brain injury on familial relationships

What is a traumatic brain injury? 

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) occurs when a sudden trauma causes damage to the brain. There are many possible causes, including road traffic accidents, assaults, falls and accidents at home or at work. TBIs can range from mild, such as a concussion, to severe, causing long-term complications and cognitive difficulties. 

A mild brain injury may be present where an individual has suffered a brief period of unconsciousness and the early symptoms may include feeling sick or dizzy. 

A moderate head injury is usually defined as loss of consciousness for between 15 minutes and six hours, or a period of post-traumatic amnesia (PTA) of up to 24 hours. Individuals who have suffered a moderate head injury are likely to suffer from a number of residual symptoms.

A severe head injury is usually defined as being a condition where the individual has been in an unconscious state for six hours or more, or where there is PTA of 24 hours or more. These individuals will likely require intensive rehabilitation once the acute phase has passed. These individuals tend to have more serious ongoing deficits.

Effects of a traumatic brain injury 

The symptoms of a TBI and the long-term prognosis can vary depending on factors such as the severity and location of the injury, the effectiveness of treatment and rehabilitation, and the presence of any pre-existing conditions. 

Many of the effects of brain injury can be very subtle and are therefore, not easily recognised or understood by others. For these reasons, brain injury is often called a ‘hidden disability’. 

Common effects can include the following:

  1. Physical Effects: These can include headaches, dizziness, fatigue, balance problems, sexual dysfunction, weakness in limbs, changes in vision or hearing, and seizures.
  2. Cognitive Effects: Brain injuries can lead to various cognitive impairments, such as difficulty with memory, attention, concentration, problem-solving, and processing speed. Individuals may also experience confusion, disorientation, and difficulty organising their thoughts or expressing themselves verbally.
  3. Emotional and Behavioural Effects: Brain injuries can impact mood and behaviour, leading to emotional changes such as depression, anxiety, irritability, mood swings, impulsivity, and agitation. Some individuals may also experience personality changes or difficulty controlling emotions.
  4. Communication Difficulties: Brain injuries can affect language abilities, leading to difficulty speaking, understanding speech, or reading and writing. This can significantly impact social interactions and daily functioning.
  5. Sensory Changes: Changes in sensory perception, such as altered taste or smell, heightened sensitivity to light or sound, or difficulty with spatial awareness, can also occur after a brain injury.
  6. Long-Term Complications and Medical Issues: Some individuals may experience long-term complications from a brain injury, such as post-traumatic epilepsy and sleep disturbances. 

Every brain injury is unique, and individuals may experience a combination of these effects to varying degrees.

How can this impact upon relationships?

Brain injuries can, unfortunately, strain existing and future relationships with family, friends, and partners/ spouses, due to the changes in behaviour, communication difficulties, and emotional challenges. Many people often report feeling like a different person after their injury.

The difficulties faced following TBI can often impact that individual’s ability to participate in conversations, engage in activities, or fulfil responsibilities within the relationship. They may require more support from their partner or family members, or they may struggle to contribute to household tasks or financial responsibilities as they did before the injury. Partners also often take on caring roles, which can lead to the boundaries between the roles of ‘carer’ and partner becoming blurred. Brain injury can also have an impact on an individual’s interactions with their loved ones and create additional stress within the relationship.

Some individuals with brain injuries may also experience social isolation as they struggle to participate in social activities or maintain friendships. This can further strain relationships, as both the individual with the injury and their loved ones may feel disconnected from their social support network.

Some relationships may strengthen, whereas others may become strained over time or even completely break down.

What if relationships do break down?  – Our Family team and how we can help 


When any marriage breaks down there needs to be careful consideration of how the couple’s assets are to be divided on divorce.  If one party is holding a large sum of money as a result of a compensation claim for a TBI or this money has been used to buy a family home, which may be  the largest ‘asset’ in a marriage, then this can become a lot more complex.  Usually on divorce,  the starting point for division of assets is a 50/50 split unless needs dictate otherwise, with particular regard to a set of factors listed within the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. 

It is important to instruct a solicitor who has an understanding of your particular needs, and why the lump sum was awarded, to ensure they are able to concisely explain your needs. This is especially so when some of the key the factors to consider when dividing assets are:

  • Financial need
  • Ability to generate own income
  • Physical or mental disability 

A Judge has a wide discretion to decide how assets should be divided and potentially any asset owned in either party’s sole name is vulnerable therefore if one person to a marriage is to receive a large lump sum in compensation then its treatment needs to be very carefully considered, ideally before any breakdown occurs.

Protection of lump sum 

It is important to take specialist legal advice on the steps that can be taken to protect an awarded lump sum as far as possible, to increase the chance of it being considered ‘non-matrimonial’ and therefore not considered within the division of the assets unless absolutely required to meet the needs of the other spouse. It is important to understand that when two people divorce, both parties needs are taken into account and all assets are considered: meaning a lump sum award will not be automatically ringfenced. 

The steps to take will depend on individual circumstance, but will include:

  • Keeping the award separate and not intermingling with marital assets
  • Using the award for the purpose it was awarded such as: therapy, physiotherapy, COP costs 
  • Consider holding the funds in a PI trust
  • Entering a post nuptial agreement

It is important to take specialist family legal advice and financial advice to be fully informed on any risks, and to allow an informed decision to be made before substantive sums are spent. 

Unmarried couples

If the parties are not married, the ‘risk’ to the award is any funds spent prior to the relationship breaking down or any investment into a joint property. There is no such thing as a common law spouse and so if a relationship breaks down between an unmarried couple, the award made to the person with a brain injury is solely theirs and does not need to be shared with the other person to meet their needs, which would be the case if the parties are married.

It would be worth considering a cohabitation agreement (link to blog on 24.11.23 on this), if the parties live together or funds are going to be spent on a home. The purpose of this would be to set out who owns property, and what would happen in the event of the relationship breaking down. 


Mental capacity refers to the ability to take information in, weigh it up, and make decisions for ourselves. It is important to bear in mind that after a brain injury, some of the core skills that being able to do this relies on (such as memory, decision making and information processing), may be affected so that an individual lacks capacity to make decisions in their own best interests, making them more vulnerable and possibly putting them in risky situations.

In some situations, following a brain injury, it may be determined that the individual lacks capacity to manage their property and financial affairs in accordance with the Mental Capacity Act 2005.  If this is the case, then that individual may require a Deputyship Order, where decisions about their property and finances will made on their behalf. The Deputy appointed by the Court of Protection (in England and Wales) or the Office of the Public Guardian (in Scotland) is usually a family member, friend, or professional, such as a solicitor.

Where to get help? –  Personal injury team and Headway 

Ongoing support is essential for maximising recovery and improving quality of life for anyone who has been affected by brain injury. 

Navigating the impact of a brain injury on relationships requires patience, understanding, and open communication from everyone involved. Seeking support from healthcare professionals, support groups, or charities, such as, Headway, can also be beneficial in addressing relationship challenges after a brain injury.

Moore Barlow’s Personal injury team are delighted to be in the legal directory of Headway, the Brain Injury Association. Headway is a UK-wide charity that works to improve life after brain injury by providing vital support and information services. 

Moore Barlow work closely with local Headway groups with a number of our colleagues holding positions of responsibility such as a trustee or supporting in other functions.  

Headway will soon be launching their latest campaign; Action for Brain Injury Week (ABI Week) campaign theme: A life re-written. This campaign will be taking place between the 20th and 26th May.

A life re-written will be a campaign that illustrates how brain injury can affect anyone at any time, focussing particularly on how it throws plans into disarray, changes life goals, and even the sense of who we are.

The campaign will seek to show positive examples of brain injury survivors who have experienced post-traumatic growth and successfully rebuilt their careers, relationships and lives. The campaign also seeks to outline the realism of life post-brain injury and how positive outcomes aren’t always the norm, including the ripple effect on others, for example, how partners are affected, and how partners also make life changes, sacrifices and adjustments to their own goals and expectations.

How can Moore Barlow help?

Starting your personal injury claim with Moore Barlow is straightforward. Reach out to our personal injury lawyers for a no-obligation discussion about your situation. We’re ready to listen, guide you through your options, and when you’re ready, we’ll commence the journey towards securing your deserved compensation and supporting your recovery.

Our Family and divorce team can work collaboratively with the Personal Injury team, to consider the best way to protect any awards received, and can advise on the risks if a relationship does breakdown. 

If you need assistance, then please do contact our Personal injury team