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Evaluating the impacts of law in divorce – did it increase the case or reduce them?

Over the last few decades, many countries have enacted legislation that has made divorce simpler. Some countries have legalized divorce where it was previously banned, and many have eased the conditions required for a divorce (such as allowing for unilateral divorce, i.e. not requiring both spouses' consent). I review a number of similar studies that examined the effect of these changes on a variety of social outcomes, beginning with divorce rates and focusing on marriage and fertility levels, labor supply for women, household income, child welfare, and even family violence and crime.

Marriage is an ancient social institution still of great relevance today. All countries around the world have marriage regulatory rules, and its occurrence in most societies remains very high. But divorce is a much newer phenomenon. Prior to the 20th century, a marriage was usually terminated in Western cultures only after the death of one of the partners. In the early decades of the 20th century, many countries started to enact laws that provided for the possibility of dissolving a marriage, but initially divorce was given only under very stringent circumstances, as had been proved after adultery.

Family law in various countries started in the mid-20th century to incorporate the possibility of "nofault" divorce, i.e. grounds for divorce that did not allow a partner to accuse the other of any sort of wrongdoing. Many countries clearly required the expressed consent of both partners while others needed many indications that the partnership had ended, such as a separation period. Divorce laws have been further liberalized in recent decades, with many countries allowing "unilateral divorce," in which both spouses no longer need the consent.

As divorce during the 20th century became easier, divorce rates soared and marriage rates plummeted in many countries, particularly since the 1960s and 1970s. Some complained that facilitating divorce led to the "destruction of the traditional family" Others have pointed out that family law responded only to social demand. What had done it right? Do the laws of divorce matter in any real sense, or are they simply putting a rubber stamp on separations that would happen in any case?

Did divorce rate increase/ decrease?

Fifty per cent of marriages are generally believed to end in divorce. For the last 40 years, the figures have been fairly correct but there is much more to the story. Changes in law and society may explain why divorce rates have increased, and why it may rise again.

Why Divorce expand?

Before 1970, divorce was relatively rare and difficult to obtain. Usually a fault was required-one of the spouses had to commit a crime or sin that justified the divorce. There had to be adultery, neglect, abuse, addiction or some other excuse to break the union.

In some states during the 1950s, no-fault divorce became an option. Couples no longer needed to prove one person was responsible. They just could say the marriage broke down. By 1970, virtually all states had laws that permitted divorces without fail.

Long separation had been mandatory until the divorce. Also, many states passed laws that greatly reduced the time of separation, making divorce easier and quicker.

These laws had a considerable effect on the rate of divorce. The ratio had doubled by 1979. From 1940 to 1965 the divorce rate for every 1,000 married women stayed close to 10 divorces.

When society changes, it divorces.

Changes in the law clarify part of why divorce was on the rise, but the whole story is not revealed. As the law was changing, it was changing society too.

Women are a heavy labor force presence. They were no longer reliant on their husbands to support them. Such independence allowed them to escape, and still provide for themselves, an unhappy marriage.

Divorce became more acceptable too. The guilt and fault of old laws on divorce had gone away. Divorce gradually became a normal part of life, as more couples separated.

In short, several couples who had previously stayed together now have opted for divorce.

Other changes may also clarify why the rise in divorce, including:

  1. It has become acceptable to cohabit (to live together). Research shows that premarital couples who live together are more likely to divorce.

  2. A divorced person who remarries after a divorce will get divorced again even more likely.

  3. Children are more likely to get divorced from divorced parents. When the number of divorced parents grows, so does the number of divorced children.

Is Divorce getting Less Common?

Since 1980, the divorce rate has gradually but steadily decreased. As of 2008, it is predicted that 40 per cent of marriages will end in divorce. This is down from 1980's over 50 per cent.

Statistics and research suggest a number of reasons for the reduction:

  1. Couples later get married when they are more mature and their lives become more stable.

  2. Couples later have kids which can contribute to a more stable marriage.

  3. Fewer of the couples get married. Staying single late in life or not getting married at all, is acceptable.





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