Divorce Records and Statistics

Information About Divorce and Joint Child Custody from our Family Law Attorneys

People often cite the statistic that one out of two marriages, or 50 percent, ends in divorce or dissolution of marriage. This is simply not true. The statistic was for marriages only in the 1970s. This statistic is not true currently.

According to the New York Census data released in May, 2011, 77 percent of the couples who were married since 1990 have reached their ten-year anniversaries. Also, people marry later in life. The average age of a married individual in 1950 was 23 for men and 20 for women. In 2009 it was 28 for men and 26 for women.

The National Bureau of Economics Research (NBER) shows that in first marriages in the early 2000s, 60 percent had previously co-habited with their future spouse. Almost all of these people, whether it’s true or just a public statement, claim that there is a pretty good chance or a 50/50 chance that they will wed. 60 percent of this group had specifically announced they would get married, or it was almost certain that they would marry.

Census data demonstrates that almost one-half of the people in the U.S. come from “split families.”

Oddly enough, according to general statistics you are 48 percent more likely to get divorced if you have lived together. However, this statistic does not take into account that the parties who live together and then divorce may have been together much longer than parties who were simply married. That is to say, this statistic includes couples who lived together for ten years and then were married for ten years, and is comparing them to people who are married for ten years, not people who were married for twenty years.

According to a 2001 study, couples with joint child custody arrangements report less conflict with their former spouses than sole custody parents. This is particularly important since judges have historically worried that joint custody exposes children to ongoing parental fighting. It is true in some cases, but generally joint custody works better than sole custody. In 1970, only nine states permitted joint custody; today, every state has adopted it in one form or another.

Remember joint child custody does not necessarily mean a sharing of the children. It means either a division of or a cooperative effort toward decision making. Joint custody time may be split by alternate weekend visitation rather than a 50/50 timeshare.

In 1960, about 250,000 couples were living together without the benefit of marriage. In 2010, it is more than 7 ½ million couples. [1]

The number of divorces in the United States per 1,000 married women in 1960 was about 8 per 1,000 married women peaking in 1980 to about 22.6 per 1,000. In 2009, it has dropped to 16.4 women. This is a yearly statistic.

Divorce rates are currently the lowest they have been since 1970. Divorce in the United States peaked in 1980.

Here is another odd statistic from “Generations” by William Strauss and Neil Howe: In 1962, 50 percent of adult women believed that parents in bad marriages should stay together for their children’s sake. In 1980, only one in five felt that way; 80 percent of divorced adults professed to be happier afterwards.


[1] Some of the information gathered herein comes from the Capital Review, July 9-10, 2011 article by Susan Gregory Thomas quoting “In Spite of Everything: A Memoir” by Susan Gregory Thomas.