When it comes to divorce, the US ranks third per capita in the world. The prevalence of divorce-themed media such as last year's Marriage Story showcases just how ingrained divorce is within US culture. While nobody enters their marriage expecting it to end in divorce, unfortunately, a significant number do.
At Simmons & Associates, our attorneys are intimately familiar with the subject of divorce. It's one of the case-types we most often see in our office. Whether you're considering a divorce or are a yet-to-be-married individual wondering how marriages fare in the US, understanding trends in divorce can help you know what to expect.
If you're considering divorce, contact us online or via phone at (855) 973-8877 to arrange a consultation with one of our divorce lawyers.
Understanding the Divorce Rate in the US Is Complicated
People love to come up with quotes that simplify the popularity of divorce in the US. For a long time, the mantra has been "roughly half of all marriages end in divorce." But that's not entirely true.
That figure comes from 1980 when the divorce rate peaked at around 50%. But it doesn't account for the large number of factors that play into divorce. The divorce rate for a religious person who enters their first marriage at age 40 is different than the divorce rate for a secular 50-year-old on their third marriage, for example.
The divorce rate is actually on a decline currently. However, whether this is the result of a legitimate decline in divorces among married couples or just a side effect of fewer marriages overall remains to be seen.
On that note, the median age of married individuals has increased notably in recent years. Today, the median marriage age for both men and women is around three years older than in 2000, with the median marriage age for men and women hovering at 29.8 and 28, respectively.
However, the divorce rate among older couples is actually rising. Between 1990 and 2010, researchers found the divorce rate for adults aged 50 and over doubled, a significant spike.
Researchers aren't quite sure why older individuals are divorcing more, but they have a few ideas:
- Increased lifespans and quality of life into the older years make divorce more enticing. People are remaining active and in good health for longer, which may contribute to an increased divorce rate in older couples as individuals eschew the idea of settling down, even with a married partner.
- It's easier than ever to get into a new relationship. Dating apps and other forms of social media have lowered the barrier to new relationships, particularly for older individuals. Now that a new partner is only a click away, it's easier than ever to start a new relationship.
- An older median marriage age means an increase in divorces among older individuals. We mentioned earlier that the median marriage age has increased in recent years. Some researchers speculate that the divorce rate isn't necessarily dropping as much as it is getting pushed back with the median marriage age.
All in all, understanding the divorce rate is complicated. If you're unsure of whether to marry because you're afraid of a potential divorce in your future, it's essential to understand that the divorce rate isn't a monolith. Every individual relationship is unique, and what results in a divorce for one couple may simply be a road bump for another.
The divorce rate also varies wildly across couples based on differing demographics, such as annual income, college education, whether the couple has a baby before marriage, and religious affiliation. For example, someone with a yearly salary of $50,000 plus is 30% less likely to get a divorce than someone with an annual income of $25,000 minus. Throwing out eye-catching statistics may be fun, but divorce is a complicated issue that can't be generalized as easily as statistics would lead you to think.
Women Are Happier Than Ever Post-Divorce
One trend worth paying attention to is the number of women who instigate divorces. In fact, almost 70% of divorces are initiated by women.
Unpacking why women are more likely to initiate divorce than men is complicated. Nobody knows precisely why the divorce rate for women is so much higher, but researchers have several ideas.
Firstly, women are generally more likely to suffer from types of spousal abuse, such as domestic violence, than men. One in four women suffer from severe intimate partner violence, while one in nine men undergo the same experience, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Additionally, women today generally have increased agency compared to a hundred, fifty, or even twenty years ago. More women than ever are working, and women who receive promotions or are financially independent are more likely to divorce. At face value, this statistic makes sense—if you know you can survive a divorce financially, you're probably also less likely to remain in an unhappy marriage.
Finally, more women report marital dissatisfaction than men. This statistic may explain why many women are also happier post-divorce than pre-divorce—a study by Kingston University London found that women experience exceptional contentment five years post-divorce.
Social Media Changes How We View Divorce
The prevalence of social media changes how we view divorce. Increasingly, couples in contested divorces (where neither party agrees on how the divorce should proceed) are asked by courts to cough up texts, direct messages, and social media accounts as evidence during the divorce process. Requiring social media text logs and account information as evidence is particularly prevalent in cases where one party alleges adultery or other misbehavior as a reason for divorce since many such behaviors are carried out or enabled via social media.
Obviously, watching a jury read months' worth of text messages is embarrassing. But the cost of social media is even more severe for individuals involved in a high security-clearance industry or professionals who have to navigate privacy agreements consistently, such as doctors, lawyers, or army officers. These individuals must decide what social media information and texts they allow to be examined by the court, and request that the rest be sealed as evidence—which can increase the costs of divorce proceedings significantly.
Not only does social media allow evidence for divorce to be more readily available than ever before, it fundamentally changes how courts approach contested divorces.
The COVID-19 Pandemic May Spike the Divorce Rate
Typically, January is the busiest month for divorce attorneys. Couples don't want to initiate divorce over the holidays, but the holidays also make many couples realize they want a divorce.
Many couples have difficulty coping with the one or two weeks of solid interaction the holidays bring. As a result, many attorneys predict that the divorce rate in the US will spike post-quarantine, as couples test the limits of their relationships over consecutive months of isolation. The added stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly for couples that lose their jobs or are working on the frontlines as essential workers, may also play a role in an increased divorce rate.
There's actually a precedence for the assumption that the COVID-19 pandemic may result in more divorces. In China, provinces like Sichuan experienced record-high numbers of divorce-filings after their COVID-19 quarantine lifted. In the Hunan province, court office clerks struggled to keep up with the number of divorces residents filed, processing record numbers in a single day. If the US looks remotely similar post-quarantine, we can expect a significant uptick in the divorce rate when stay-at-home orders are lifted.
However, it may take a while for divorces percolating during the COVID-19 pandemic to finalize. Financial concerns also often play a key role in divorce. For many couples, the marital home is a significant asset, and in divorces where there are no children involved, the court often asks couples to sell the marital home.
Currently, the housing market is on a decline in the US, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. It's not unrealistic to assume some couples may choose to stick it out in a rough housing market and part ways once they're able to sell off the marital home for a better price.
Understanding how trends affect divorce may enable you to have a more successful marriage, or help you decide if a divorce is right for you.
If you have legal questions concerning divorce, our attorneys have a wealth of experience handling divorce cases. Contact us online or give us a call to receive a free consultation.