The Impact of Divorce

By Dr. Ken Manges, Ph.D. | Forensic Psychologist

My wife Mary and I have been married for forty-seven years and not once have we had an argument serious enough to consider divorce; murder, yes, but divorce, never. -Jack Benny

The 50 percent statistic of all marriages ending in divorce is misleading, if not wrong. For every two marriages that occurred in the 1990s, there was one divorce. This does not mean the divorce rate is 50 percent because the people getting married in any given year are not the same ones getting divorced (with perhaps a few exceptions).

Similarly, even if this statistic were true, it does not mean that 50% of all people who are married will experience divorce. On one hand, a vast number of marriages last a lifetime. On the other hand, there are some people who become divorced several times or more.

Part of the difficulty with divorce statistics is that the rates measure divorces in different ways.

Federal funding for the collection and publication of detailed marriage and divorce statistics was suspended in 1996, and as a result, an annual count of divorces in the United States is not complete. Not all states report divorces, but despite this limitation, the U.S Census Bureau calculates what is known as a crude divorce rate – the number of divorces per 1,000 people in the population. This calculation leaves much to be desired because it includes children and single adults who are not at risk of divorce.

Thus, the divorce rate is misleading for a number of reasons. Not all states report divorce statistics. The divorce count is based on the total population, not the total married population. Using per capita at today’s population distorts the comparison of current marriages because divorces that happen today arose from a smaller population yesterday.

Journalists and pundits sometimes turn to divorce statistics for clues that foreshadow the likelihood of marital success or failure. According to a 2009 study by Jeffrey Dew at the Utah State University, one of the best indicators of marital discord is what he terms “financial disagreements.” Couples who “disagree about finances once a week” are over 30 percent more likely to get divorced than couples that report “disagreeing about finances a few times a month.” Disagreeing about finances means fighting about money.

In his study, Dew examined the responses of 2,800 couples surveyed in 1987 by the National Survey of Families and Households, who were contacted again in 1992, and asked if they were still married. Of all the common items on the agenda of domestic disputes – chores, in-laws, spending time together, sex and money – “money disputes were the best harbingers of divorce.”

Remarriage Post Divorce – Census Bureau Statistics
Of remarried couples studied by the U.S. Census Bureau:

  • Most men and women marry within 5 years of divorce.
  • Generally, a higher percentage of men remarry within 5 years than women.
  • Half of the households formed by remarriage following divorce do not have any biological children under 18 years old living in the household.
  • Most spouses in remarried couples already have children. Thirty-two percent of these men and 27 percent of these women were childless.

Another surprising divorce statistic is the divorced rate of second and third marriages. While percentages differ slightly (depending on the source), 60 to 67 percent of second marriages fail, and 70 to 73 percent of third marriages end on the rocks. A bad marriage, it seems, does not prevent people from trying again.

The wisdom of experience goes only so far. Unfinished business from the first marriage must be attended to. Rebound marriages, money woes and worries, step relationships, bickering with former spouses about support, custody, and visitation – all create liabilities when people attempt a second or third marriage. Sometimes people bring their baggage to the next relationship.

Dr. Kenneth Manges is a Forensic Psychologist and vocational expert who offers consultation and comprehensive evaluations. His analyses have been recognized for their clarity and scientific rigor. He offers reasonably certain opinions about the psychological impact of physical injury or emotional trauma as they affect earning capacity and the impact of loss on future work and quality of life. Well regarded in the litigation arena, he is a trusted and respected authority and offers evaluations that have been consistently upheld in both state and federal courts.