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Trends in Divorce Statistics

Divorce statistics give some indication of the extent of this social happening, and hence whether intervention and support is needed or not:

Information from the Office for National Statistics in 2013 indicated that 39% of couples marrying today will divorce. They highlight the following factors impacting the occurrence of Divorce:

  • Almost all variation in divorce rates comes during the first decade of marriage, including the huge increase in divorces post-1969, which peaked in 1993 and has now begun to decrease, possibly because many more couples cohort.
  • After surviving the first decade of marriage however most factors leading to divorce are not impacted by the decade in which couples were first married.
  • Divorce is most frequent in the early years of marriage and most likely to occur between the third and sixth year. There has never been any evidence of a “seven year itch”.
  • In later years, divorce risk tails off substantially. Only one in five divorces occur after 20 years of marriage and just one in a hundred occurs after 40 years of marriage. The over-hyped rise in over-60s “silver surfer” divorces is due to an increase in the age at which couples marry and not higher divorce rates.

These facts indicate the importance of strengthening marriage in the first ten years. A specific focus on the choices couples make before getting married would also be significant in averting Divorce.

Interestingly, according to The Sowetan (11th Feb 2012) commenting on the latest Statistics on South Africa Marriages and Divorces Report released in December 2011, the distribution of couples divorcing by population group showed that the highest proportion of divorces between 2001 and 2007 came from whites followed by black Africans with 43.2% of divorces amongst white couples and blacks accounting for 23.1%. But from 2008 to 2010, the pattern started changing and Blacks started upstaging whites in divorce courts with 35.6% of the 2010 divorces coming from them and only 30.5% from the whites.

This shows that Divorce trends are reflective not only of personal issues but are impacted by cultural and historical shifts. We need to remember that marriage and divorce rates now also include Homosexual Marriages.

According to statistics quoted by the Law Faculty of Witwatersrand University in 1992, South Africa had one of the highest divorce rates in the world at the time, with three out of every five marriages ending in divorce (Taylor & Aronstam, 1992).  Many children are affected by this life event.  In the United States if was predicted that one out of every two children born in our generation will have divorced parents and live in a single-parent home before they reach the age of 18 years (Pedro-Carroll & Cowen, 1985).  Of these single parents, 80% of divorced mothers and 83% of divorced father remarry within three to five years after their divorce (Emery, 1988; Glick 1984).  Children not only have to adapt to the initial divorce event and the consequent changes in family structure, i.e. from a nuclear to a single-parent family structure with their two separate parents living in different homes, but within a few years they often have to adapt some more to either, or both parents, remarrying.  Fundamental bonds, attachments and behavioral continuums are disrupted.  To make life even more challenging, it has been found that 75-80% of remarriages end in divorce as well (Berg, Berger, Silverblatt & Hollier, 1978).  Sequential changes and reorganization in the family structure are constantly affecting the foundation upon which these children exist.

Divorce impacts on all family members, and although it may be a creative solution to dysfunctional family relationships, offering the child and parents a respite from an excessively stressful family environment, it requires major adjustments:

Divorce strikes at and disrupts close family relationships…leaving in its wake a diminished, more vulnerable family structure.”  Divorce, “…traces a pattern of time that begins with an acute, time-limited crisis, and is followed by an extended period of disiquilibrium which may last several years – or even longer – past the central event.  And each introduces a chain of long-lasting changes that are not predictable at the outset and that reach into multiple domains of family life.” (Wallerstein, 1983, p.230).

Divorce may be one of the most critical and widespread mental health crises facing children today.  This is happening in a country where there is a great paucity of therapeutic intervention programs to help children meet this challenge.  In addition, during this time parents are less available to offer their children appropriate support owing to the major psycho-social adjustments they too are needing to make (Taylor & Aronstam, 1992).


Taylor, L. & Aronstam, M. (1992).  Group Psychotherapy with children from divorced families.  Propersona, 3, 7-17. Pedro-Carroll, J. L. & Cowen, E.L. (1985).  The Children of Divorce Intervention Program: An investigation of the efficacy of a school-based intervention program.  Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 53, 603-611 Emery, R.E.  (1988).  Marriage, Divorce and Children’s Adjustment.  Newbury Park, CA:Sage. Glick, P.C. (1984).  How American families are changing.  American Demographics, 6, 20-27. Berg, Berger, Silverblatt & Hollier, 1978 Wallerstein, J.S. (1983).  Children of Divorce: The psychological tasks of the child.  American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 53, 231-242