7 Divorce Trends that will Surprise and Shock You
Divorce trends are changing.
Things that were unheard just a generation ago are now well on their way to being, if not commonplace, at least not creating too much of a stir.
Many theories are being proposed for this transformation—as usual, the millennials are cited as being behind many of the changes—but no one can say for sure that any single thing is causing a divorce to be in transition.
Some of these trends are good, while others seem positive on the surface but show some tarnish when they are examined more closely. In 2016, the last year for which figures are available, there were 6.9 marriages for every thousand people in the U.S. and 3.2 of those ended in divorce, according to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).
That equates to a 45% divorce rate, a figure that has remained steady for several years.
But while the divorce rate statistic is nothing new, other things about divorce are. And some of the attitudes, beliefs, rumors, and statistics about divorce are outdated or flat-out wrong.
If you are still hanging on to long-held assumptions about divorce, here are seven trends, along with theories about why they have emerged, that will likely surprise and possibly shock you:
1) The number of divorces is shrinking
Most of us are under the impression that divorces are becoming more commonplace when, in fact, there are fewer of them.
While the divorce rate has been at 45% for the past several years, the number of divorces each year is declining simply because fewer people are getting married today.
Many people are shocked to find out that the divorce total is falling, but it’s true throughout most of the country. Take the state of Ohio, for example: In 1990, there were 4.7 divorces per one thousand inhabitants. Today, that number has dropped to 3.1
There is even good news in divorce rates: Around 70% of couples who married in the 1990s have made it to their 15th anniversary. That figure is 5% higher than for marriages that began in the 1970s and 80s. And the trend for marriages in the 2000s shows an even lower divorce rate.
Other factors for the decline in both the number and rate of divorces are later marriages (resulting in mature couples who create a more stable marriage) and birth control, which helps to delay children until couples are ready emotionally and financially.
Not all the news is positive, however.
Although there is a general decline in divorces, most of that decline is clustered among people with college degrees. For those who are less educated, divorce rates remain high. Statistics indicate that of those who were married in the early 2000s, about 11% of the college-educated were divorced by the seventh anniversary, while 17% of those without college degrees had ended their marriages.
2) Divorces among couples over 50 are increasing
As a group, baby boomers divorced and remarried in large numbers.
So, it should not be surprising that as they age, these remarried boomers will once again be leading the pack in divorces. After all, remarriages are statistically more likely to end in divorce than first marriages. And, those who have ever been divorced, are now divorced or have been married at least twice make up a large portion of individuals aged 50 and older.
In 1990, five of every 1000 married people aged 50 and over were getting divorced.
By 2015, that number had doubled! This data, taken from the National Center for Health Statistics and U.S. Census Bureau, also shows that among those 65 and older, divorces have tripled over the twenty-five years beginning in 1990, affecting six in every 1000 married individuals in 2015.
Just as the divorce rate among younger adults is stabilizing or declining, “gray divorces,” as they have come to be known, are on the rise.
In addition to the Baby Boomer factor—unusually high divorce rates in young adulthood—many gray divorcees have simply become discontented with their marriages and wish to pursue their interests unencumbered by a spouse. Recent research has pointed out a desire among them to live independently for the remaining years of their lives.
Unfortunately, that independence can come at a steep price.
Later-life divorcees tend to suffer more financial insecurity than their married or widowed counterparts. And this is especially troubling for women. Men, on the other hand, experience social isolation more acutely than women who live alone.
3) Women are now taking the initiative in filing for divorce
Data from a 2015 study of heterosexual couples, presented at a meeting of the American Sociological Association, found that it was the woman who initiated 69 percent of all divorces, compared to 31 percent for men.
Yet, that same study found that women and men instigated breakups in equal numbers in non-marital relationships. Why the difference?
Michael Rosenfeld, the study’s author, believes that some women experience marriage as oppressive or uncomfortable.
"Wives still take their husbands' surnames and are sometimes pressured to do so. Husbands still expect their wives to do the bulk of the housework and the bulk of the childcare.
On the other hand, I think that non-marital relationships lack the historical baggage and expectations of marriage, which makes the non-marital relationships more flexible and therefore more adaptable to modern expectations, including women's expectations for more gender equality."
Similar studies have confirmed Rosenfeld’s findings: women are starting the divorce process at twice the rate of men. More women than men reported high levels of marital strain, even upon entering the marriage. In contrast, men’s tension levels were low in the early stages and built slowly over the years.
During couples’ therapy, it’s typically the woman who voices frustration over the state of the marriage, while the husband merely feels troubled by his wife’s unhappiness but is content to maintain the status quo. Because of that, he is less willing to alter his behavior.
4) Doulas are helping couples to cope with divorce
It’s a Greek word that means “women’s servant” and doulas have been assisting other women through childbirth for many centuries.
So, what is the connection between childbirth and divorce that makes a doula appropriate for either? Well, both can be frightening and painful, but with a bit of coaching, there is joy and relief at the end of the process.
Divorce doulas help those who are struggling with the thankless task of ending their marriage. They can give objective emotional support or offer advice on filling out forms, understanding pension plans, and valuing real estate.
The doula's biggest appeal comes from its potential to give the divorcing individual a sense of control at a time when practically everything seems to be spinning out of control.
People in the middle of divorce are looking for an affordable advocate who will watch out for their interests. So, the appeal of a doula taking on some of the responsibilities, at about $100 an hour, grows.
But not everyone is convinced that doulas provide that gentle and evenhanded journey to divorce that only requires an attorney to finalize the paperwork.
There are those detractors who believe that divorce doulas are just one more part of a gloomy process, albeit, with a kinder-sounding name, that ends up at the same sorrowful conclusion.
For the most part, however, doulas are garnering more support, even from many lawyers.
John P. Schuman, for instance, a managing partner in a Toronto family law firm, believes that those who are coached by doulas are better prepared. "They come to meetings coping better and with a different attitude," Schuman says. "They have more focused discussions, and it makes our life a lot easier to have someone able to focus on the legal issues and making good decisions as opposed to being ruled by emotions."
And everyone, including family court judges, welcomes the more rational attitude that those working with doulas exhibit.
5) Many divorced couples continue to live together
Most people will find the idea of divorced couples living together completely counterintuitive. After all, isn’t one of the major reasons for divorcing to leave a bad marriage behind and get a fresh start, presumably somewhere else or with someone else?
Well, the rationalization for remaining in the same house revolves around practical considerations. First of all, it saves money, and that’s usually something that’s in short supply after a breakup. When a two-income household splits into two separate households, simple math tells you there is less money to support each one of them.
Couples also stay together because it makes it easier to take care of the children. Communication is better, morning and evening rituals remain in place, both parents can assist with homework, and discipline can be shared and supported.
For some divorced couples, the arrangement has an agreed-upon end date: until the house is sold, the rental lease term is up, or the school year has ended. With an endpoint in sight, couples can find it easier to get through the period of cohabitation.
Of course, much of how well the arrangement works will depend on whether the divorce itself was amicable or bitter. Either way, some couples reportedly find living together tolerable since the issues that caused the divorce have been mostly settled. For others, however, the nightmare continues.
What could go wrong?
Many experts warn of the downside of staying together.
First off, friends and family will think you’ve lost your mind. You gave them all those reasons for ending your marriage, and now you’re going to live together? You can imagine what they will say!
From a psychological standpoint, couples might be confusing or delaying the grieving process for children who are still living at home. They have already been told that their mom and dad are divorcing, but now they see their parents living together and interacting as they did before. Witnessing this can hold them in denial for a much longer period.
And children might not be alone in denial. When two people split up, one of them is the aggrieved spouse. That one may be only too happy to keep living together, hoping for a reconciliation. And if there is no chance for that, the one that was left will live with false hopes and, just like the children, have the healing process delayed indefinitely.
A few suggestions that could help it work
Make it very clear to everyone that you are divorced and have no intention of getting back together. No one should have to live with false hopes.
Set up rules for the new arrangement. The old rules are probably gone.
Decide which of you gets to go out on specific nights.
Who will handle the money? Will it remain combined or is it better to keep it separated? How are the household responsibilities divided?
Living together, even after a rancorous divorce, is possible if both parties abide by a set of conditions on which both agree ahead of time.
6) Many couples remain business partners after the divorce
It’s natural to assume that after a marriage falters between business partners, it’s inevitable that one of them would almost always buy out the other’s business interest. But that isn’t necessarily the case.
According to the last count by the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly four million businesses in this country are jointly owned by a husband and wife. And even when these marriages collapse, in some cases the businesses continue with each ex-spouse remaining in their previous role.
Some divorced business partners stay together at work because they don’t have the money for a buyout. Others continue because they realize the business could be in trouble without both of them, so they make the best of it. Sometimes, it’s just too difficult for either one to walk away from a successful enterprise, no matter how distasteful they might find being around one another.
While it’s true that lots of businesses continue with both exes staying on board, no one is saying it’s easy. It’s difficult to make a business partnership between a divorced couple work, says David Ransburg, a consultant at Family Business Consulting Group:
“In my experience, people who decided they can’t continue as so-called personal partners probably would have a lot of trouble continuing as professional partners,” he says.
The couple’s values might no longer be aligned, and it gets even harder if the divorce came about because of some acute breach of trust, such as an affair.
So, how do some couples make it work? Here are some rules that they likely follow:
- Defining each partner’s role in the company can help to avoid conflict
- Keeping emotions at bay can maintain morale and prevent poor decisions that hurt the company
- Draw up some formal agreements such as a buy/sell agreement in case one of the partners decides to leave, and a trust to protect the business assets from liability or if one of the ex-spouses remarries.
- Discuss potential issues and set ground rules to avoid them
- Continue to monitor how your children are affected by the working arrangement
7) There are now apps to help you during and after divorce
You hear it all the time: There’s an app for that.
That’s something your parents’ generation never heard, but today there are apps to help you overcome some of the issues that divorce initiates. Here are five of them that could come in handy:
SupportPay: Divorced parents can keep track of child support payments, medical bills, and other incidental payments to help them stay organized and avoid legal conflict through this app. The premium version costs about $10.00 per month.
2Houses: This is another app that assists divorced couples with expense tracking, co-parenting, calendar, tasks, and photo sharing. The app averages a fee of $10.00 per month if paid annually.
Wevorce: This one could be thought of more as a service since its goal is to remove much of the contention and expense out of divorce by surveying clients and referring them to a group of divorce professionals. Targeted mainly at couples with fewer assets and less bitterness, this service limits its cost to paying the professionals whose services you utilize.
our familyWizard: Parents can keep all information about the divorce and custody issues in one place. Features include medical record-keeping, expense tracking, a shared calendar, and a virtual diary with a cost of $99 annually per parent.
Divorce is expensive. Just how expensive is it? According to an article in the Huffington Post, you could end up adding ten years to your working life to recover from the financial effects of a divorce. The average cost of a divorce in Ohio stands at $12,500, while the national average ranges from $15,000 to $20,000.
Most divorcing couples will need all the financial help they can get. And some of the trends listed above—divorced couples continuing to live together and divorce doulas acting as affordable advocates—could help mitigate some of the financial stings.
Other than financial trends, it’s encouraging to see that the divorce rate has been on a plateau, despite what most people believe, and the actual number of divorces is in decline. It’s also heartening to note that women, at one time virtually trapped in abusive and unhappy marriages, are asserting themselves and initiating divorce at a higher rate than men.
It’s shocking to learn that the rate of divorce among those over 65 has tripled over the last twenty-five years, but it is understandable when seen in the context of the high divorce rate of Baby Boomers in the early stages of their marriages.
Less surprising is finding out that many divorcing couples, who jointly owned businesses, are continuing to operate them together despite their break-up.
There are many solid, practical reasons for couples to set aside the strong emotions that marital strife engenders, so it isn’t quite as shocking to learn that they manage to work together as it is to find out they can work out a joint living arrangement after ending their marriage.
The reasons for divorce are as varied as the personalities of those who participate in it, but there is one question that anyone considering divorce should be asking after seeing the latest trends, all the downside, and, above all, the potential emotional and financial costs: Is it worth it?