Chapter 12 Review: Divorce, Widowhood, and Remarriage
Divorce is an experience that is both very individual and yet carried similarities across cases: a first divorce is, at the
very least, a marking event in a persons life. Divorce is a legal institution whose function is to separate spouses who
can no longer live together. However, it carried implications for the life course of adults and children alike.
In previous centuries, single-parent families were a common occurrence. Until the Second World War, the death of a
spouse remained the leading cause of family disruption, at which point it was surpassed by divorce.
It was not until 1968 that Canada enacted its first unified federal Divorce Act, which was followed by the more liberal
or no fault act of 1985.
Although divorce rates have not increased recently in Canada, the number of divorced persons is nevertheless
increasing with population growth. In 2007, there were 972,183 divorced women and 712,531 divorced men in the
population. This gender difference stems from the fact that divorced men re-partner more and sooner than women and
also because women outlive men. There are now more divorced than widowed Canadians.
Divorce Rates and Trends
The latest estimate by Statistics Canada (2008) for recently married couples put the risk of divorce at 38% by the 30
wedding anniversary for the country as a whole ranging from 21.6% in Newfoundland and Labrador to 48.4% in
Quebec. The probability of divorcing is somewhat lower for a first marriage but is higher for a remarriage.
The low rates for the Maritimes may be the result of a higher level of social integration, a more effective community,
and demographic variables such as an older population. The higher rates for Quebec may stem from a combination of
variables including widespread cohabitation before marriage, lower religiosity, and more liberal and individualistic
Calculating divorce rates on the basis of couples who have been married for 30 years is the most accurate measure.
With this method, we see that persons who are about to marry have a much higher chance of staying together than of
divorcing. However, this statistical method is a recent and sophisticated one that is not used everywhere. Therefore, in
order to be able to compare divorce rates over time and across cultures, a less sophisticated method is used: the crude
divorce rate based on divorce per 1,000 population.
Divorce rates had already began climbing before the Second World War, so that by the 1968 Divorce Act, divorce was
more common, although still rate. Rates then increased spectacularly after the 1968 Act and peaking in 1987 at 3.6
divorces per 1,000 population compared with 5.2 American divorces in 1981, which was the peak year in the U.S.
Thereafter, the rates declined to the point where, in the 2000s, they were equivalent to those of the late 1970s. Similar
downward trends are evident in the U.S., although with rates always higher than in Canada.
Cross-culturally, statistics from the United Nations (2008) indicate that Canadians crude rates (2.2) are comparable
to those of Sweden (2.2) and are lower than British (2.8) and especially American ones (3.6). The American rates are
the highest in the western world but are lower than the Russian ones (4.5).
Several points need to be emphasized to better understand conjugal dissolution (cohabitations and marriages that
end). Cohabitation is now more common than marriage in Quebec as a first union and after divorce. In contrast to
divorce, when a cohabiting union breaks up, the dissolution does not appear in any statistics. However, is the breakup
of a cohabitation equivalent to divorce? This is important in order to measure the true extend of conjugal dissolution.
The answer is not a simple one.
Another factor to consider is that an unknown number of married couples separate but never divorce. This type of
conjugal dissolution may be as significant and consequential as a divorce, yet it does not appear in divorce statistics. It
may also be increasing among those who separate and go on to cohabit fairly rapidly after their separation. So, when
these two caveats are put together, at least one out of every two unions ends in dissolution. This dissolution
percentage may continue to rise if younger cohorts continue to enter in greater numbers into cohabitation as a first
union. Statistics are not yet available for same-sex divorce. One question that will arise is the extent to which patterns and
rates of divorce among gay and lesbian couples resemble those of heterosexual couples. Given that same-sec marriage
has only recently become legal, a good proportion of these marriages involve couples who had been in long-term
relationships. As such, one could reasonably predict that their divorce rate would be lower than that of married
couples who are heterosexual.
However, it should be noted that in Sweden and Norway, gay registered partnerships have higher divorce rates that
heterosexual ones; in addition, lesbian partnerships have a 77% higher risk than gay ones. Andersson et al. (2006)
explain this higher rate among homosexuals by the fact that they are less likely to have children than are heterosexual
couples. Also, womens same-sex partnerships may be more at risk of divorce because of a stronger sensitivity to the
quality of relationships by women than by men regardless of sexual orientation.
Age at Divorce and Duration of Dissolved Marriages
Another recent trend in divorce rests on the fact that couples are now on average older at divorce than in the past. This
age may rise again to reflect the fact that men and women now marry later.
The average duration of marriages ending in divorce in 2005 was 14.5 years or 1.7 years longer than a decade ago.
Lengthier marriages before divorce are also occurring in other western countries, such as the U.K. As well, Statistics
Canada indicates that the highest number of divorces occurs after the third and fourth anniversaries. After that, the
rate decreases for each additional year married.
But we do have to be careful when we consider divorce statistics by duration because, among older persons, a divorce
at age 60 or older may be a first one after a long marriage or a second or an nth one. The more frequently people
divorce and remarry, the shorter each subsequent remarriage.
Multiple (Serial) Divorces
16% of divorcing women and men in 2005 had been divorced at least once before. Therefore, over 20% of all
divorces in Canada are a repeat for at least one of the spouses. Both here and in the U.S., people who divorce many
times seem to differ from the once-divorced on some dimensions. Some have more personal problems while others
are less committed to marriage. For instance, Clark and Crompton (2006) have found that people who experience
multiple divorces are much less likely to believe that marriage is important to them and to their happiness. They are
not much willing or ready to make adjustments or concessions that could lead to stability. In comparison, most
respondents who had divorced only once expressed feelings of hurt, guilt, and even regret.
Number of Children Involved
The number of dependent children involved in a parental divorce was 36,252 in 1998 the total number of divorces
had been 69,088. The numbers are probably equivalent today.
These numbers of children whose parents divorce may seem surprisingly low. One has to consider that only about half
of couples who divorce have children. This is due to the fact that a good proportion of divorces occur within the first
few years of marriage. As well, only about a third of couples who dissolve a cohabitation have children. Further, the
divorced who have children do not have as many, on average, as couples of their age who remain married. It is not
clear whether this is because couples who have a stable marriage are more likely to add a second or third child to their
family or if a larger number of children inhibits divorce, at least during the childrens younger years. But what we
known is that the presence of children at home is related to a lower divorce rate. Paradoxically, in remarriages, the
presence of a womans children from a previous union increases the risk of divorce.
Children who live in cohabitational families are more likely to experience a parental separation than children whose
parents are married. Celine Le Bourdais and her colleagues (2004) have found that Quebec children whose parent
cohabit have a threefold chance of going through a parental separation compared with children in married families;
the risk for the remainder of Canadian children was nearly five times greater than that of children with married
parents. The research indicates that such multiple familial transitions correlate with declining well-being in children
and an increase in behavioural problems.
Who is Responsible for Children After Divorce? o A substantial increase has occurred in the number but not the proportion of fathers who have physical custody.
But in most of these instances, children still live with their mother. Although joint legal custody may involve
children living on alternative weeks or months with each parent, it generally simply involves equal rights for
access and decision for both parents while the children remain with one parent. For their part, children prefer
equal time with each parent as do young adults retrospect