How Divorce Affects People
In the first six months of 1976, 987,000 couples were married and 538,000 divorced in the United States.—The 1977 “World Almanac & Book of Facts.”
IN THE time it takes to read this page, four marriages will end in divorce—in just the United States. Every minute, on the average, more than two marriages are official dissolved.
In some places divorces are approaching, if not exceeding, the number of marriages. In Los Angeles County alone, nearly 50,000 divorces are filed a year. DallaSite, a Texas newspaper, reports: “During the first half of 1975, Dallas County records show that there were more divorces filed than marriage licenses issued.” In all, 8,275 divorces were filed and 6,801 marriage licenses issued.
The speed at which people are shedding their mates is staggering and is still gathering momentum. Divorces more than doubled in the U.S. in ten years; from 1965 to 1975 they leaped from 479,000 to 1,026,000. In other countries, the rate of increase is much greater.
In 1960, Canada had only 6,980 divorces. By 1973 the number had leaped to over five times that, to 36,704. And then in 1974 there were 45,019 divorces, resulting in an increase of more than 20 percent. “Divorce is so widespread,” reports the Toronto Star, it’s the happily married couple of 15 years or more who sometimes feel[s] like a minority.”
In the Soviet Union, too, the increase in marriage breakdowns is staggering. The Soviet digest Sputnik says: “About 2.5 million marriages are registered in the USSR annually . . . At the same time, the average number of divorces registered daily reaches 2,000, that is, one divorce for every three marriages.”
The situation is similar in Great Britain. Divorces there tripled in ten years. Sweden reportedly has three divorces for every five marriages, a higher ratio even than the United States. Divorces are increasing at a dizzying rate in other European countries, including Denmark and Germany.
Certain African nations also have high divorce rates. Zambia, a country of only a little over five million people, is very concerned about its 19,000 divorces a year, not far behind the divorce rate in the U.S.
Atlas World Press Review, August 1977, notes: “Divorces have become fashionable among young Japanese wives. . . . Now when they hear that there is one divorce every four minutes and 14 seconds, they want to join the race lest they be left behind.” And over in Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post complains of a “fast rising divorce rate during the past few years.”
So divorce is booming practically everywhere. With what effect?
A Changed Society
First of all, tens of millions of lives have been disrupted, often tragically. MD magazine of March 1977 notes: “Counting spouses and children under 18, more than 4 million Americans annually ‘have their lives dramatically changed by divorce, and an equal number are estimated to experience desertion, the ‘poor man’s divorce.’”
The skyrocketing divorce rates are only one evidence of dissatisfaction with marriage. Many couples are experimenting with new life-styles, mutually agreeing to sexual acts with persons not their husbands and wives; still others simply ‘live together,’ setting up housekeeping with someone of the opposite sex without getting married.
The Way to Happiness?
But rather than creating a climate of peace and happiness, the divorce epidemic and the new life-styles are resulting in widespread suspicion and anxiety in families. “Some couples are so frightened by the number of divorces in their neighborhoods,” notes a director of a New York Center for Family Learning, that “they come to us just to talk about what they can do to prevent divorce.”
No longer can women, as a rule, count on their husbands for a lifetime of support, and therefore many worry about having to cope when their husbands depart. But, in other instances, it is the wives who leave their husbands. Some even leave behind small children.
After divorce, when they are free ‘to do their own thing,’ what happens? Are the divorced really happy? Three U.S. professors, who made a study of such persons, report in Psychology Today of April 1977: “We didn’t find a single victimless divorce among the families we studied. At least one member of each family reported distress or showed a negative change in behavior.”
The article noted that free-living divorced men did not realize lasting satisfaction, and added: “The stereotyped image of the carefree, swinging single life did not hold up for the women, either. For them, casual sex brought on feelings of desperation, depression, and low self-esteem.” No wonder that suicide is at least three times as frequent among the divorced as among the married, and that alcoholism shows similar patterns.
The children, however, often are the principal sufferers. In the U.S. alone, some 11 million children live in single-parent homes. Many are at the center of custody battles, and commonly they are snatched from one parent by another. Meyer Elkin, an expert on family problems, laments: “We are now raising a generation of children from broken homes—and creating a social time bomb.”
Divorce also hurts the pocketbook. “Inflation has sent the cost of a divorce sky high,” reports Business Week, “a minimum of $1,500 per partner in legal fees alone, and more if the action is contested or if there is a custody fight.” But even worse are the sparks of bitterness that are often fanned into consuming flames. As one Chicago divorce attorney said: “I feel that divorce law is usually more like war than war is.”
A woman who went through a divorce in 1974 writes: “My first rude awakening came when I went to a lawyer. He needed a $400 retainer before he could draw up any papers. A lawyer helps you develop a certain hardness, which contributes to an already growing bitterness.
“I should know, because I elected to follow my lawyer’s advice and ended up before a referee in Domestic Relations Court six different times just to discuss temporary child support and property divisions. Every time I went down to court, it required additional papers to be drawn up, and, of course, additional lawyer’s fees.”
Since divorce often results in bitterness and unhappiness, why do people divorce? Why is there such an epidemic of divorces today? These are questions that we will next consider.