Marriage and Divorce: Statistics and Legal Trends

Marriage and divorce have changed significantly since English common law times, when they originated. Our society has been in a constant state of evolution, and so have the institutions of marriage and divorce. 

Every aspect—why people choose to get married (or divorced), who can get married, and how people get married (or divorced)—has evolved.

Let's take a look at current marriage and divorce statistics, as well as legal trends that have emerged in recent years.

Marriage and Divorce by the Numbers

Marital status is always a hot topic on social media. Have you ever heard that the divorce rate in the United States is 50%? This is a popular "statistic" that gets thrown around a lot. But there is a lot of misinformation around this topic, and this 50% marker is not completely accurate. It's hard to pin an exact percentage on how many marriages end in divorce, but we do know that the divorce rate has been on the decline since the 1980s.

Thanks to the CDC, the Pew Research Center, and other sources, we also know:

  • The divorce rate in the U.S. is 3.2 per 1,000 people, according to the CDC (44 states and Washington, D.C. reporting).
  • The divorce rate decreased by 18 percent from 2008 to 2016, according to a 2018 study.
  • Only 50% of today's American adults will tie the knot; in 1960, 72% of Americans got married.
  • In the early 1980s, the median ages for men and women to get married were 25 and 22, respectively. Today, the median age for men to get married is 29 and for women it's 27.
  • The average length of a marriage ending in divorce is eight years, according to the 2011 U.S. Census.
  • 18 million Americans were living with an unmarried partner in 2016, up 29% since 2007.
  • The divorce rate quadrupled over the past three decades for people between the ages of 54 and 64.
  • 40% of marriages today involve at least one person who has been divorced.
  • 16% of U.S. children live with a blended family, where one or both parents each have children from a prior marriage.
  • 6% of divorced couples end up remarrying each other.

Most Common Reasons for Divorce

The following are often cited by married couples as the most common reasons for a divorce:

  • Lack or absence of commitment
  • Overly frequent conflicts and arguments
  • Infidelity and extra-marital affairs

Review this resource from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for more information about this topic. These reasons appear to occur regardless of age group.

Social Norms and Economics Affect Legal Trends

As the statistics above show, both the marriage and divorce rates are trending downward in the U.S. Researchers believe this is mostly due to changing social norms and economics. These factors, and other marriage and divorce trends, include:

  • Millennials are making an impact: Those born from 1981 to 1996 are getting married later when they are older and more established in life and career. Researchers credit millennials with helping to lower the divorce rate, as these marriages tend to be less risky and less likely to end in divorce.
  • Signs of social inequality: Marriage is now more about status than necessity, researchers say. It is more common for people to enter marriage in a financially secure place than hoping to gain financial security, which tends to put negative pressure on a marriage. However, at the same time, marriage is becoming less obtainable for certain demographics, which researchers warn is a sign of social inequality.
  • Cohabitation: Living together before marriage has become much more common. Today more than 65% of couples live together before tying the knot. Some choose cohabitation as a less formal alternative to marriage, which comes with fewer privileges and responsibilities.
  • Baby boomers and divorce: The divorce rate is still on the rise for the baby boomer population, which is known as the "gray divorce" phenomenon. Reasons for this include boomers being more likely to marry young (a major risk for divorce) and having multiple marriages (second and third marriages have higher divorce rates).
  • Divorce isn't taboo: Unlike a few decades ago, it has become socially acceptable to end a marriage for virtually any reason. Divorce is represented in mainstream TV shows and movies. Public figures such as politicians and church leaders are not afraid to discuss their divorces.
  • Marrying for love: The Pew Research Center reported that 88% of Americans said love was a "very important" reason to get married. This is over other reasons, such as making a lifelong commitment, companionship, and having children. Only 23% of people said legal rights and benefits were a "very important" reason to get married.
  • Intermarriage on the rise: Marrying a person of a different race or ethnicity is becoming more common. In 2015, 17% of people were intermarried, while only 3% of newlyweds were married to a person of another race or ethnicity in 1967. More than half of younger adults support intermarriage.

Related Resources

  • Breakdown of Marriage Statistics from American Psychological Association: This linked resource covers statistics on the number of divorces that have occurred in any given year during the past two decades. Its useful breakdown of divorce rates contextualizes marital behaviors. It also covers marriage rates over that timeframe, which is also useful for contextualizing marital behaviors. It breaks down the number of divorces on average, across broad demographics, for first marriages and second marriages. It also breaks down these statistics by gender demographic, addressing divorce statistics for married women.
  • Upward Trend of Marriages During the Pandemic: This linked resource is from the CDC. The statistics and analysis were conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics. It covers and analyzes the upward trend of marriage during the COVID-19 pandemic. It covers and analyzes U.S. divorce rates during this timeframe against the backdrop of the U.S. Census Bureau data on the topic.
  • Upward Trend of Divorces During the Pandemic: This linked resource is from the British Broadcasting Company (BBC). It covers and analyzes the upward trend of divorces and break-ups during the pandemic. It breaks down statistics on the risk of divorce and the incidence of remarriage. At the same time, it covers these statistics based on broad breakdowns of number of marriages for any given data set considered. According to this article, the likelihood of divorce increased during the pandemic.

You can also visit FindLaw's general resource page on divorce. There you can find material on:

  • Marriage and divorce settlement agreements
  • Issues related to alimony and child support
  • Topics concerning same-sex couples, from same-sex marriage to divorces in the LGBTQ+ community
  • A state-by-state breakdown of marriage and divorce statistics, from Arkansas to Massachusetts and New York to Wyoming

Want To Learn More About Divorce?

You can learn more about the divorce process in your state. If a divorce may be in your future, or you'd like to discuss a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement, an experienced family law attorney in your area can answer all of your questions. It's important to get legal advice from a divorce lawyer if you're going through a divorce.

The help of a divorce attorney is indispensable. It's important to contact a licensed attorney wherever you live. Whether you're in Alabama, West Virginia, Hawaii, or Nevada, it's important to contact an attorney for help.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • You may not need an attorney for a simple divorce with uncontested issues
  • Legal advice is critical to protect your interests in a contested divorce
  • Divorce lawyers can help secure fair custody/visitation, support, and property division

An attorney is a skilled advocate during negotiations and court proceedings. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

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Don't Forget About Estate Planning

Divorce is an ideal time to review your beneficiary designations on life insurance, bank accounts, and retirement accounts. You need to change your estate planning forms to reflect any new choices about your personal representative and beneficiaries. You can change your power of attorney if you named your ex-spouse as your agent. Also, change your health care directive to remove them from making your health care decisions.

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