What are the most common Causes of Divorce?

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(See also Correlations of Divorce rates with other factors)

NOTE: Newer information on the same topics is available on The Divorce Statistics and Studies Blog. But a lot of important, pre-2008 information is collected only on this site, the Divorce Statistics Collection. So you should check both this site and the blog.

This page looks at the factors that are seen as causes in individual divorces, not general social causes of an increased divorce rate.

First, some links to articles, followed by a summary of the challenging nature of this question, and a report from a divorce lawyers' group on what their clients cite as the causes of their divorces, followed by some other excerpts and citations.

Predicting Marital Success
Cessation of Love is not real cause of breakups, study says (2/15/99)
Article listing several warning signs for a marriage that won't last
Divorce Culture leads to unhappy marriages
Quality of Marriage Declines after "I Do"

Seven Factors Identifed As The Main Causes Of Divorce
Bernama - Kuala Lumpur,Malaysia
September 10, 2005 19:15 PM

Seven Factors Identifed As The Main Causes Of Divorce

"Seven Factors Identifed As The Main Causes Of Divorce"
Bernama - Kuala Lumpur,Malaysia
September 10, 2005 19:15 PM

KOTA BAHARU, Sept 10 (Bernama) -- Seven factors have been identified as the
main causes of divorce among couples in the country, among them failure by
husbands and wives in discharging their responsibilities.

Universiti Sains Malaysia Kubang Kerian's Faculty of Health director, Prof
Datuk Dr Mafauzy Mohamed said besides this the others were a low grounding
in religion, interference by third parties, differences in culture, sexual
problems, money and careers.

The overall divorce rate among Malay Muslims in the country was in the
region of 10 to 15 per cent, he said.

"The latest studies conducted by Jakim (Malaysian Islamic Development
Department) found 21 per cent of divorces was because of the irresponsible
attitude of husbands or wives," he told a mental health symposium here

According to him, 19.23 per cent was because of incompatibility and the
remainder due to problems of drugs and others.

Mafauzy added that various measures had been and would be taken, among them
having more courses, workshops and seminars and counselling to curb the

What are the most common Causes of Divorce?

No statistics on this are collected -- the grounds listed on the vital statistics forms that are filed with each divorce case in most states rarely list the actual cause of the divorce. The causes listed below come from a survey of experienced divorce lawyers who have been elected by their peers to the Academy. As a divorce lawyer, I consider it to be about the most accurate listing of causes of divorce that is available.

Of course in each case, the two spouses and the lawyers might each have a different opinion of the real cause of the divorce. Many of the causes listed below often would not, by themselves, lead to divorce, or even happen in the first place, or would get remedied by the couple, were it not for "A lack of commitment to the marriage", which itself is one of the main causes the Academy members list below.

On the quite different question of "What Grounds of Divorce are Most Commonly Used," we do have some information from France in 1996, the U.S. ca. 1969, Alabama ca. 1998, and Fairfax, Virginia circa 1990. See also Affair Statistics.

From "Making Marriage Last", published by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers at http://www.aaml.org/Marriage_Last/MarriageLastText.htm
Why Marriages Fail

Not all marriages fail for the same reason. Nor is there usually one reason for the breakdown of a particular marriage. Nevertheless, we hear some reasons more often than others.

They are:

Poor communication
Financial problems
A lack of commitment to the marriage
A dramatic change in priorities

There are other causes we see a lot, but not quite as often as those listed above .They are:

Failed expectations or unmet needs
Addictions and substance abuse
Physical, sexual or emotional abuse
Lack of conflict resolution skills

Time, sex, money biggest obstacles for young married Couples

A recent study by the Creighton University Center for Marriage and Family suggests that time, sex and money pose the three biggest obstacles to satisfaction in the lives of newly married couples. The study found that debt brought into marriage, the couples' financial situation, balancing job and family, and frequency of sexual relations were of greatest concern to those ages 29 and under. Those age 30 and over shared with their younger cohorts the concerns of balancing job and family and frequency of sexual relations, but also added as problem areas constant bickering and expectations about household tasks. The study used a random sample drawn from couples who had completed the FOCCUS inventory and had agreed to participate in future research. A mailing of questionnaires resulted in a total sample of 947 couples, or 1,894 individuals. Out of that a total of 793 individual questionnaires were returned, which the study called a ``highly acceptable'' response rate of 48.5 percent; 35.7 percent of the returns were completed questionnaires from both spouses. ``Time, Sex and Money'' is shorthand for the top three problem areas reported by survey respondents: balancing job and family, frequency of sexual relations, and debt brought into marriage. The other top problematic issues the study showed were, in order, husband's employment; overall financial situation; expectations about household tasks; constant bickering; communication with spouse; parents or in-laws; and time spent together with spouse. Editors: For a copy of the study, access the Center for Marriage and Family's Web site, www.creighton.edu/MarriageandFamily/. "Time, sex, money biggest obstacles for young married Couples "By Mark Pattison, Catholic News Service. Cited in a posting from Smart Marriages Listserv in May 5, 2001.

"A variety of studies suggest that the seeds of marital distress and
divorce are there for many couples when they say, "I Do." These studies
show that premarital (or early marital) variables can predict which
couples will do well and which will not with accuracies of 80% up to 94%
(e.g., Clements, Stanley, & Markman, 1997; Fowers, Montel, & Olson,
1996; Gottman, 1994; Karney & Bradbury, 1995; Kelly & Conley, 1987; and
Rogge & Bradbury, in press).

"Mismanaged conflict and negative interaction in marriage predicts both
marital distress and negative effects for children (e.g., Gottman, 1994;
Markman & Hahlweg, 1993; Clements, Stanley, & Markman, 1997; Cowan &
Cowan, 1992; and Grych & Fincham, 1990).

"Money is the one thing that people say they argue about most in
marriage, followed by children (Stanley & Markman, 1997). But, there is
a lot of reason to believe that what couples argue about is not as
important as how they argue (Markman, Stanley, & Blumberg, 1994)."
-- From a September 25, 1998 posting on the Smart Marriages Archive, probably by Scott Stanley

Radcliffe Public Policy Institute
Focus groups told researchers that the pressures faced by low-income working parents make it extremely difficult to keep jobs and raise families, creating family and employment instability.

"One in 10 of the people who receive marriage guidance from Relate each year
now blame the internet for their problems." From "Relate says internet to blame for relationships break-up." Monday 15th April 2002


Korea Herald December 31, 2004 (From Smart Marriages Listserv Jan 3, 2005)
The number of divorces in Korea jumped by 21,800 last year with infidelity cited as one of the most common reasons, government figures showed yesterday. The National Statistical Office said 167,100 couples divorced in 2003, compared to 145,300 the year before. Many Koreans believe the rising divorce rate reflects the decline of traditional values, along with the impact of western lifestyles and the pressures of modern urban life. Nearly 70% of the divorced couples ended their marriages because of infidelity, physical and mental abuse and personality conflicts.
From "VALUES DECLINE, DIVORCE INCREASES IN KOREA" Cited in a posting on the Smart Marriages Listserv Jan 3, 2005.

Snoring can be the cause of divorce
Pravda - Moscow,Russia
... The British Snoring & Sleep Apnoea Association study confirms many
widely-held assumptions and says the problem causes rows and can lead to
divorce. ...

Cruelty most cited basis for divorce
Times of India - India
MUMBAI: Arun Nayar, Liz Hurley's burly, is not alone in using cruelty as a
charge on which to peg a divorce petition. While the ...

Divorce takes husbands by surprise
Sydney Morning Herald (subscription) - New South Wales,Australia
Divorce takes husbands by surprise
By Stephanie Peatling
March 17, 2005

Study finds many divorce over petty matters
New Straits Times » Local

According to researcher Nancy Reichman from the pediatrics department of Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey, there is an increased in chance that a father of a sick newborn baby will leave the family soon after the baby is born. Reichman had reported in Demography, Aug 2004 that ""Having a child with poor health decreases the probability that the parents will live together by 9 to 10 percentage points" after a year to 18 months of the child's life." Based on a study of more than 3,000 parents with newborn babies. "FATHER FLIGHT"
The Washington Post: "Unconventional Wisdom", Oct 10, 2004

"NFI Releases Report on National Marriage Survey"
Article By: Vincent DiCaro, Public Affairs Manager
Fatherhood Today, Volume 10, Issue 3, Summer 2005 pgs 4-5

"National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) has released With This Ring...A National Survey on Marriage in America, a report on one of the largest and most comprehensive surveys ever conducted on Americans' attitudes towards the institution of marriage.

Norval D. Glenn, the Ashbel Smith Professor and Stiles Professor in American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, headed the research project and wrote the report. The Office of Survey Research at the University interviewed, via telephone, a representative sample of 1,503 Americans over the age of 18.
According to the findings of the survey, it appears that for both men and women there may be a "peak marriage age" in the mid-twenties. People who get married between the ages of 23-27 are much less likely to get divorced than those who marry as teens; they are also much more likely to be in high-quality marriages than people who marry in their late twenties or later.
69% of respondents said their marriages were very happy.
88% said they were completely or very satisfied with their marriages.
So, why do people get divorced? The conventional wisdom on divorce is that it only happens after both parties have tried their hardest for a long period of time to save their marriage. But the findings of this survey suggest that this may not be true, in many cases. When asked the questions, "do you wish you had worked harder to save the marriage?" and "do you wish your ex-spouse had worked harder to save the marriage?" only a third of respondents answered "no." Also, 62% of ex-wives and ex-husbands answered "yes" to the question, " do you wish your ex-spouse had worked harder to save the marriage?" These findings (along with "lack of commitment" being the number one reason given for divorce) run counter to the conventional wisdom that most divorces only happen after both spouses have done their best to save the marriage.
There is additional hope in these finding, because the most common reasons given for divorce are preventable. The top reasons given by ex-husbands and ex-wives were: (1) "lack of commitment," (2) "too much conflict and arguing," and (3) "infidelity" -- reasons that can be addressed by counseling and interventions included in various healthy marriage initiatives.
In terms of both divorce and marital happiness, marriages that were preceded by cohabitation are less successful than those that were not."...

A study by AARP The Magazine in May 2004 found that 66 percent of women
initiated their mid- and late-life divorces, and that alcohol and drug abuse
were among their top reasons, along with physical or emotional abuse and
infidelity. Men said that falling out of love and different lifestyles or
values were the primary causes.
The Republican (Springfield, MA)
Sunday, November 26, 2006

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Originally posted and maintained by Americans for Divorce Reform; now maintained by John Crouch. You can call me at (703) 528-6700 or e-mail me through my law office's web site.