The 50% divorce myth

Everyone “knows” half of all American marriages end in divorce, and that was indeed the case in the 1970s and 1980s.  But it isn’t true today:

Despite hand-wringing about the institution of marriage, marriages in this country are stronger today than they have been in a long time. The divorce rate peaked in the 1970s and early 1980s and has been declining for the three decades since.

About 70 percent of marriages that began in the 1990s reached their 15th anniversary (excluding those in which a spouse died), up from about 65 percent of those that began in the 1970s and 1980s. Those who married in the 2000s are so far divorcing at even lower rates. If current trends continue, nearly two-thirds of marriages will never involve a divorce, according to data from Justin Wolfers, a University of Michigan economist (who also contributes to The Upshot).

There are many reasons for the drop in divorce, including later marriages, birth control and the rise of so-called love marriages. These same forces have helped reduce the divorce rate in parts of Europe, too. Much of the trend has to do with changing gender roles — whom the feminist revolution helped and whom it left behind.

“Two-thirds of divorces are initiated by women,” said William Doherty, a marriage therapist and professor of family social science at University of Minnesota, “so when you’re talking about changes in divorce rates, in many ways you’re talking about changes in women’s expectations.”


The delay in marriage is part of the story, allowing people more time to understand what they want in a partner and to find one. The median age for marriage in 1890 was 26 for men and 22 for women. By the 1950s, it had dropped to 23 for men and 20 for women. In 2004, it climbed to 27 for men and 26 for women.

Perhaps surprisingly, more permissive attitudes may also play a role. The fact that most people live together before marrying means that more ill-fated relationships end in breakups instead of divorce. And the growing acceptance of single-parent families has reduced the number of shotgun marriages, which were never the most stable of unions, notes Stephanie Coontz, a professor at Evergreen State College and author of “Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage.”

Where is Andy’s Dad?

Heavy, dude:

Between all the fun characters, the magical nature of the toys, and burning questions like “What is the sex like between Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head?” it’s easy to forget that there are human characters in this movie. Namely, the toys’ owner, Andy; his little sister, Molly; their mom; and … wait a minute, where’s the dad? This theory by Jess Nevins explains his absence by claiming that, while Buzz Lightyear and Woody are having wacky adventures, Andy’s parents are getting a divorce.

Each Toy Story movie covers a milestone in the life of Andy: his 10th birthday, the first time he goes to summer camp, and the day he leaves for college. And for all of these important events, Andy’s father is always absent, with no explanation. Also, look at Andy’s house: There are photos of Andy, his mom, and his sister, but no dad in sight.

Then there’s the fact that in the first movie, we see the hand of Andy’s mom as she’s bringing over his present. Guess what: There’s no wedding ring.

If Andy’s dad just happened to be on a business trip or was, like, standing in the other room the whole time, you’d still probably see some evidence of his existence. Obviously there could be many, many explanations for this, but it seems likely that either Andy’s parents broke up in a bitter divorce or his dad up and left the family at some point after Molly was conceived (which wasn’t that long before the first movie, since she’s a baby). If the father left recently, this would also explain why the family is moving to a smaller house in the first movie: It’s all they can afford on one salary.

It’s amazing (and kind of depressing) how many animated movies have no fathers in them.  (And even in those that do, it rarely ends well for him.)

Divorce gets ugly

No comment:

When Feng’s wife gave birth to a girl, he was convinced it could not be his as he believed their daughter would be as beautiful as her mother, so he concluded his wife must have been unfaithful. He insisted she tell him who the father was.

When a DNA test proved that the baby was his, the wife confessed she was originally rather ugly, but had spent $100,000 (P4 million) on cosmetic plastic surgery in South Korea before they were married. Feng filed for divorce citing “false pretenses.”

Unverified photos circulating in China do show a marked improvement in looks after the women went under the knife. Interestingly, no one has been able to track down a photograph of Feng himself. A pity as we could judge for ourselves if he really is the Mr. Oh So Good-Looking he thinks he is.

After the divorce, he then sued his ex-wife. He argued that she had conned him into thinking she was a beautiful woman.  It’s clearly a man’s world in China. Amazingly, the judge agreed with Feng’s argument and ordered his ex-wife to hand over $120,000 (P4.9 million) in compensation.

“I married my wife out of love, but as soon as we had our first daughter, we began having marital issues,” said Feng. “Our daughter was incredibly ugly, to the point where it horrified me.”

“17 Common Mistakes To Avoid In Divorce Proceedings”

From family lawyer Sherry Donovan in the Huffington Post.  I agree with all of them, and I’d add an 18th: concentrate on what’s best for the children and yourself, not what might punish your ex.

I’ve warned many clients that they’re likely to come out much worse at trial than if they accepted a reasonable settlement offer, but some are so embittered that they want their day in court anyway.  If they’re particularly obstinate, I will tell them to seek other counsel.

When Scientologists divorce

ABC News looks at…wait a minute…Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are getting divorced?  Why isn’t this getting more media attention?!? 

The divorce of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, both bold-faced names and members of the Church of Scientology, shines a light on one aspect of their religion.

For many of the world’s religions, the rituals surrounding divorce are as structured as those governing marriage. Jews seeking a divorce must sign a ritual contract. Mormons married in the temple must undergo a “sealing cancellation.” In some Muslim sects, witnesses must be present for a divorce, and in others a husband recites a formula of denunciation three times to end a marriage.

The Church of Scientology, however, is much clearer on the rituals and practices of marriage than it is on divorce, according to experts and the church’s own official website.

Rather than focus on divorce, the church concentrates on improving couples’ relationships through therapy.

“Church members believe that tension in a marriage comes from ‘overts’ and ‘withholds,’ unstated, undiscussed issues or problems,” said Stephen Kent, a religion professor at the University of Alberta.

“Communication is therefore a good way to rebuild a marriage that’s crumbling. Couples can take a course called How to ‘Improve Your Marriage’ and in dire situations auditors, or counselors, can lead couples through exercises,” he said.

“There’s no real annulment in the church. Many members have been divorced, even founder L. Ron Hubbard was married three times,” Kent said.

The church does not allow members to have contact with disconnected, or excommunicated members of the faith, making divorce inevitable sometimes when one spouse wants to continue in the faith and another wants to leave the church, according to Kent.

“If one person wants to stay in church, he can’t have contact with someone who holds doubts or criticism of the group. The doubter is called a PTS, potential trouble source.”

Holmes reportedly left the marriage – and now seeks sole custody – over fears that Cruise wanted to enroll their six-year-old daughter in the infamous Sea Organization, and now believes Scientology goons are following her around.  This is completely plauisble:

Divorce in 2011

Some new numbers:

The number of divorces initiated in Canada last year fell for the second year running, according to Statistics Canada.

Around 54,000 divorces were filed in 2010-11 in seven reporting provinces and territories (Nova Scotia, Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut, representing 66 per cent of Canada’s population), two-per-cent fewer than the previous year, when about 55,000 divorce files were opened. In 2008/2009 there were more than 56,000 initiations. This year’s number marks an estimated eight per cent fall in new cases since 2006/2007.

The steady decline mirrors a fall in the number of couples tying the knot over the last two decades. Whereas in 1989, about 190,000 marriages were recorded, by 2008, the last year data are available, that number had fallen to just 150,000. According to StatsCan, it expects about 60,000 of those couples to divorce before they reach their 30th anniversaries in 2038.

And when they do make the decision to dissolve their unions, there are ways to speed up the process, according to the report. The median length of uncontested divorces was just 120 days, compared with 490 days for contested ones. Couples in B.C. were most likely to have contested divorces in 2010-11, accounting for 23 per cent of active files. Nunavut had the smallest proportion of contested divorces, at 10 per cent of active files last year.

Still, an extremely small number of cases end up requiring a trial. The report notes that just one per cent of open cases had a trial during the last year, and only two per cent had ever reached trial at any stage.

Divorcees with benefits

A New Brunswick couple wanted to divorce and insisted they had separated – even though they kept meeting for regular hookups, if you know what I mean:

If a married couple separates and still wants to have break-up sex, is that anyone’s business but theirs?

Well, according to some judges, it might be if they are trying to get a divorce.

Take the recent case of K.L.S. and D.R.S, a New Brunswick couple who married in 2004 and separated in 2010. Their case went all the way to the provincial appeal court, which rendered its verdict last month.

In this case, the husband moved out of the home and set up a place for himself across town. But at some point after their separation, the wife engaged him in sexual relations.

They agreed to new rules and boundaries about how it would all work and the new arrangement lasted for several months.

However, when it came time to formalize their divorce, which they both wanted to happen, the judge refused the application.

The New Brunswick Court of Appeal, in a 2-1 decision, ultimately granted the divorce.  Associate Justice Bradley Green examined the factors to be considered in determining whether a couple is truly living “separate and apart,” and determined that the trial judge placed too much emphasis on the fact that the parties were still having sex:

[23]                                   The courts long ago accepted the possibility that an estranged couple may at law be living separate and apart, even though they continue to reside under the same roof.  That said, surely we must also be open to the possibility that an estranged couple who no longer share a residence may at law be living separate and apart even though, for whatever reason, they continue to engage in consensual sexual activity with one another.

[24]                                   Had the inquiry at trial looked at all or most of the factors set out above, the following picture would have emerged:

•         The respondent maintains a separate residence, which he has arranged in such a way that the parties’ child has a second home there.

•         The parties do not communicate well, argue frequently, and what communication does take place is sometimes hostile.  There are allegations of abuse between the parties, and both testified their relationship included name-calling.

•         As discussed, the parties did engage in sexual relations with one another.

•         The only meal shared together was on the child’s birthday.

•         The parties do not attend or engage in social or recreational activities together. In fact, on those occasions when the parties would both be in attendance at their child’s activities, or happen to see one another in the community, the encounters could be problematic.

•         The parties do not travel or vacation together, and with the exception of a two-hour period at Easter, do not spend holiday time together as a family.

•         The parties present themselves to others as being separated and not on good terms.

[25]                                   Only one of these factors suggests that perhaps the parties were not living separate and apart, that being an ongoing sexual relationship.  Although the case law from trial courts across the country is not uniform, this fact alone should not, and in my opinion does not in this case, constitute an interruption of separation.


[29]                                   With respect, when the trial judge chose to focus on a single issue in determining whether the parties were living separate and apart for the requisite period, and did not address any factors other than sexual activity in her decision, she fell into error and opened the door for appellate intervention.  In my opinion, it was an error of law to give undue weight to one factor, and no weight whatsoever to the various other factors.

[30]                                   On the issue of reconciliation, I will comment briefly. Both parties testified that reconciliation was not their intention when they met to engage in intimate contact.  It is ironic that had they characterized these sexual encounters as attempts to reconcile (and on the assumption that the 90-day time limitation set out in s. 8(3)(b)(ii) of the Divorce Act was respected), apparently the question of whether they were living separate and apart would have been answered much more simply.

V.        Conclusion

[31]                                   On balance, the evidence in this case is strongly weighted in favour of a finding that in fact, and at law, the parties have been living separate and apart since February 10, 2010.  For that reason, the majority of the Court determined that the appeal should be allowed, the Petition for Divorce granted, and the matter remitted to the trial judge, who has already heard a considerable volume of evidence, to deal with the remaining issues between the parties.

Calgary radio host Rob Breakenridge and family lawyer Lonny Balbi discussed the case on Breakenridge’s show last night.  The resulting podcast is well worth a listen.

The rise of “gray divorce”

According to the Wall Street Journal, the divorce rate in the United States is declining overall – but increasing among older couples, as the baby boomers start seeing their children leave the nest:

For the new generation of empty-nesters, divorce is increasingly common. Among people ages 50 and older, the divorce rate has doubled over the past two decades, according to new research by sociologists Susan Brown and I-Fen Lin of Bowling Green State University, whose paper, “The Gray Divorce Revolution,” Prof. Brown will present at Ohio State University this April. The paper draws on data from the 1990 U.S. Vital Statistics Report and the 2009 American Community Survey, administered by the U.S. Census Bureau, which asked all respondents if they’d divorced in the past 12 months.

Though overall national divorce rates have declined since spiking in the 1980s, “gray divorce” has risen to its highest level on record, according to Prof. Brown. In 1990, only one in 10 people who got divorced was 50 or older; by 2009, the number was roughly one in four. More than 600,000 people ages 50 and older got divorced in 2009.

What’s more, a 2004 national survey conducted by AARP found that women are the ones initiating most of these breakups. Among divorces by people ages 40-69, women reported seeking the split 66% of the time. And cheating doesn’t appear to be the driving force in gray divorce. The same AARP survey found that 27% of divorcés cited infidelity as one of their top three reasons for seeking a divorce—which is not out of line with estimates of infidelity as a factor in divorce in the general population.


The trend defies any simple explanation, but it springs at least in part from boomers’ status as the first generation to enter into marriage with goals largely focused on self-fulfillment. As they look around their empty nests and toward decades more of healthy life, they are increasingly deciding that they’ve done their parental duty and now want out. These decisions are changing not just the portrait of aging people in the U.S., as boomers swell the ranks of the elderly, but also the meaning of the traditional vow to stay together until “death do us part.”

“Some of those marriages that in previous generations would have ended in death now end in divorce,” says Betsey Stevenson, assistant professor of business and public policy at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, who studies marriage and divorce. In the past, many people simply didn’t live long enough to reach the 40-year itch. “You can’t divorce if you’re dead,” says Ms. Stevenson.

But that’s not the whole story, given that the bulk of the increase in late-in-life divorce has come among people ages 50-64. As a generation, boomers have changed American notions of marriage—and in the process, they have sown the seeds of their own discontent.

Most sociologists argue that boomers entered marriage with expectations very different from those of previous generations. “In the 1970s, there was, for the first time, a focus on marriage needing to make individuals happy, rather than on how well each individual fulfilled their marital roles,” says Prof. Brown, author of the gray marriage paper.

I haven’t seen comparable statistics for Canada, but in my own practice, I’m struck by how many middle-aged and older people come to me seeking help with the breakdown of their marriages.

If children set the rules for divorce

A must-read list by Kara Bishop at the Huffington Post:

In week six of Children of Divorce and Changing Families’ 8-week program, we do an exercise where we ask each child in the 10-12 year old group to create a set of rules that they wish their parents would follow to ease post divorce stresses.
The rules they write privately are then shared with the class, the goal of which is to create a list to present to the parent’s group. Rules that start out specific to each child merge with other similar requests. The kids tweak the wording for these and other parallel rules until “stop saying mom is stupid” and “don’t tell me my dad abandoned us” gets written down on a large strip of paper as the all encompassing: “Don’t say bad things about my other parent”.
The top ten rules listed below were the most commonly wished for, compiled from the many times I’ve conducted this exercise (3 times a year for the last 5 years).
1. Don’t Say Bad Things About My Other Parent
This rule comes up every time we’ve done the exercise and almost always in the top five. It also seeps into many other exercises, from one where kids express their feelings artistically on postcards…to one where kids role play an advice-giving radio talk show. They really want to know how to stop the “bad-mouthing,” especially those kids who have actually asked their parents to stop only to be told “you need to know what kind of person your ____is” or, “it’s not bad-mouthing if it’s true.”
The kids want you to know that they “don’t care if it’s true;” they just “want it to stop” because “hearing bad things about someone I love hurts my heart”.
The above rule is so pervasive that even after isolating it, it haunts our next rule:
2. Keep Us Out Of Adult Stuff
Bad mouthing the parent doesn’t have to be an outright proclamation. It can be the subtle or not so subtle release of information beyond the child’s years of comprehension and/or need to know. There is no educational or emotional value in telling a child, “there will be no ____ because your other parent is behind on child support,” or “your ____ left us because they’re boinking a co-worker”.
3. Don’t Make Me Feel Bad For Loving The Other Parent
At 11, Aaron (the inspiration for my work in this area), was the only child of three still willing to endure his mothers wrath in order to continue seeing his dad. He braved being called “stupid just like your dad,” constant questioning — “why do you want to be with the person who broke up our family?” — and having his bags packed by the front door after being told, “if you like him so much, just go live with him.”
By 14 he had given in, but only after the entire other side of the family sat him down and told him he was being a “traitor to his real family” for continuing to see his dad against his moms wishes and that he had to choose “us or him.”
What I really want parents to understand is that while they may think their actions are only punishing their ex, they are also (and often even more so) punishing their child.
I’m pretty sure every parent reading this can imagine how sad and deprived their child would be without their special love. Can being deprived of the other parents’ love be any less sad? With that knowledge, would you still do something that makes your child any degree of sad, just to punish your ex?