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How common is divorce in the United States?

There is a widespread belief that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce in the United States, but according to actual data, that percentage is far from accurate.

The New York Times recently reported that the divorce rate peaked in the 1970s and early 1980s but has been on the downswing since then. In fact, roughly 70 percent of marriages that began in the 1990s made it 15 years (notwithstanding the death of a spouse), and couples who entered marriages in the 2000s appear to be divorcing even less frequently.

Social scientists have tried to report this information to the public, but it seems everyone — including the media — has remained fixated on the “50 percent and climbing” fact, the Times reported.

Although declining divorce rates seem to suggest positive societal trends, the changing divorce statistics aren’t necessarily the result of happier couples or healthier relationships, sociologists say.

Interestingly, the divorce rates have mainly dropped among people with college degrees while less-educated Americans are still seeing higher rates. Additionally, the marriage rate overall has declined, especially among demographics that have historically had high divorce rates.

Sociologists also say that society’s general acceptance of single-parent families may have also caused the divorce rate to fall as fewer people are tying the knot because of peer pressure, only to later file for divorce. Additionally, they say more couples are choosing to live together before marriage, which data shows helps to reduce the likelihood of divorce.

Ultimately, the divorce rate is far from just a simple percentage. There are many complex factors at play, including economic and social issues, which must be understood before we can fully understand the divorce trends.

From a family law perspective, we may see fewer divorce cases in coming years but an increase in child custody and paternity cases, which will become even more important in situations where couples start families without getting married.

Co-habitation agreements may also become more popular as a way for couples to divide their shared assets if a relationship ends and divorce is not an option.

Source: The New York Times, “The Divorce Surge Is Over, but the Myth Lives On,” Claire Cain Miller, Dec. 2, 2014