Class: FRHD*1020 (Couple and Family Relationships)
Professor: S. Murray
Textbook: “The Family Dynamic – A Canadian Perspective” Fifth Edition
Authors: Margaret Ward and Marc Belanger
Chapter 10: Coming Apart – The Divorce Experience
• To place divorce in historical perspective
• To consider the causes for divorce
• To look at the developmental stages of divorce and its relationship to the family life cycle
• To describe the three crises of divorce – emotional, economic, and parental
• To examine the effects of divorce on children
• To consider issues around the custody of children
Divorce – the legal dissolution of a marriage
Divorced families add two or three phases to the life cycle: separation, perhaps remarriage, and finally,
stabilization in a new family pattern.
A SHORT HISTORY
Marriage was a way to unite families, providing stability for society. Divorce was only for grave reasons
(biological descent for inheritance means adultery was a threat but cruelty was considered part of family life).
Laws were strongly influenced by the Church of England in Upper Canada (Ontario) and the Roman Catholic
Church in Lower Canada (Quebec). Neither church recognized divorce so no divorce law existed. New
Brunswick allowed divorce in 1758 on grounds of adultery and desertion. 1787 Nova Scotia – adultery. Though
we do not know how many were granted.
Confederation in 1867, federal Parliament gained exclusive authority in matters of divorce but allowed
existing provincial laws to stand or change. Divorce process was long and expensive. Deserting family was
easier than going through a legal divorce. 1925 on, women could sue on the same grounds as men for divorce.
By 1968 all provinces except QC and NF had divorce laws with adultery basically sole grounds for divorce.
Immediately after WWII, divorce rate jumped. People married in increasing numbers. The few divorce-related
bills that were introduced in the House of Commons or the Senate in the 1940s did not pass.
1960s saw much change. 1966 – Special Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Commons on
divorce held many hearings. Church had changed position. RCC – members could vote according to their
conscience; Anglican and UCC included marriage breakdown as acceptable cause for divorce.
Bill C-187 introduced no-fault principle of marriage breakdown as legitimate ground for divorce; both
no-fault and fault grounds were equally available to husbands and wives. Transferred jurisdiction for all
divorces to the courts. July 2, 1968 new divorce law received royal assent.
1985 amendments to law, led to another jump in divorce rate. Reduced waiting period for divorce on
grounds of marriage breakdown to one year; could petition jointly for divorce.
Separation of cohabitors probably more common than divorce. Now, more than ever, more people aged
50-74 have been divorced than never married at all.
Table 10.1 – Divorces in Canada
Year Number of Divorces
1969 26,093 1981 67,671
*1968 – reform of divorce laws
**1985 – Divorce Act (“no fault”)
***1987 – peak year for divorces
WHY PEOPLE DIVORCE
2005 – 94.8% stated separation as reason for divorce, 3.1% claimed adultery, 1.2% mental cruelty and 0.9%
Attitudes toward divorce for 3 reasons: fundamental issues, experiential issues and fertility issues.
Though divorce is the result of personal dynamics of a couple, researchers have catalogued social risks: age
(marriage before 20 more likely to divorce); education (less than high school; connection between education
and income); cohabitation before marriage; imprisonment; infrequent churchgoers; spouses with divorced
parents likely to divorce.
Remarriages are subject to different risk factors. Cohabitation not a risk, remarriages at young age likely to
be dissolved; those entering 3+ marriages are less likely to claim that being married is important to their
happiness. Children brought into remarriage – disruption.
Structural-functional view – institution of family affected by wider social changes. Men provide economic
support, women provide personal care. These have eroded through economic uncertainty and demands for
personal freedom. Now a matter of individual choice and satisfaction rather than social responsibility and a
covenant before God. When marriage doesn’t meet personal fulfillment, readier to separate. Liberalization of
divorce laws made easier. Daycare taken over some family functions. Undermines family’s role.
Exchange perspective – considers the cost and benefits of divorce. Many costs = less likely chance for
divorce (costs can be economic – drop in income; or social – stigma); costs are lower now because of law,
greater acceptance, increased economic independence of each partner. Children reduces likelihood of divorce,
and is a cost to the divorce (who wins custody).
Feminists – traditional marriage supports unequal division of power. Freedom that comes with modern
independence and opportunities and can leave abusive relationships.
Symbolic-interaction theorists – patterns of interchange between partners; expectations of each other affect
behaviour; no longer emphasis on finding security and an unhappy spouse can leave marriage.
Table 10.2 – Elders More Likely Than Younger Canadians to Agree with Reasons to Divorce
Gen-Xers Boomers Elders 50
15-29 30-49 and Over Total
(%) (%) (%) (%) Fundamental Issues
Abusive behaviour from the partner 95 95 94 95
Unfaithful behaviour from the partner 89 85 89 88
Lack of love and respect from the partner 86 87 87 88
Partner drinks too much 68 73 80 74
Constant disagreement about how family finances 28 40 49 40
should be handled
Unsatisfactory sexual relationship with partner 21 37 45 35
Unsatisfactory division of household tasks with partner 12 16 21 17
Conflict about how the children are raised 14 17 21 17
Inability to have children with the partner 8 12 17 13
Disagreement about the number of children to have 3 6 11 7
Would stay for the children 44 39 52 43
THE ROAD TO DIVORCE
Rarely sudden, takes place in several phases, both rational and emotional aspects.
The Decision to Divorce
Step 1: one or both come to realize that something is wrong with their marriage
A period of denial often precedes this. John Gottman – “Divorce cascade”: a) increasing conflict; b)
serious consideration of divorce; c) separation; d) divorce ~ the further along this sequence, the harder it is to
avoid divorce. Not all couples go n the same route – can work out problems and have satisfying relationships.
May delay separation until goal has been met (finished degree, children move out). Couple may emotionally
withdraw. Time of great uncertainty and stress. Divorced co-parents not yet developed. Some ethnic
groups/cultures emphasize family responsibilities over personal satisfaction.
Planning the Breakup
Step 2: couple must plan the breakup of the family system.
Work cooperatively to settle issues of custody, visitation, and finances. Tell extended family, deal with
their reactions. This phase does not run smoothly. Couples may separate and reconcile again, repeatedly.
“Boundary ambiguity” – uncertainty about who belongs in the family and whether roles should be reorganized.
Phase where reality of divorce will mean economically.
Separation and Family Reorganization
Step 3: Separation prior to divorce.
If only one wants to separate, boundaries may be uncertain, leading to conflict – may be an attempt to
punish, maintain contact with or get a rise from former partner. Needs to restructure family by separating
marital and parental relationships; may be orderly, disorderly and marked by conflict. Work out new rules