Where Divorce Statistics Come From: Vital Statistics Forms

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By Nicole Bourgea and John Crouch

A principal source of the raw information for divorce statistics are the vital statistics forms that must be filed in all divorce cases in many states. (Other sources include the census and smaller surveys.) Virginia's form is known as the VS-4, and is formally titled "Report of Divorce or Annulment". The form is usually filled out by the plaintiff's lawyer or one of the lawyer's employees. If there is no lawyer, the plaintiff must fill it out as a prerequisite to getting divorced. At the conclusion of each divorce case, the court clerk sends this form to the State Registrar of Vital Records.

Here is the raw information that is collected on this form:

For this marriage:
Date married
Place married
Number of Minor Children

For each spouse:
Birth date
Social security number
Race (will be phased out in Virginia starting in 2002 as new forms are printed)
Education level
How many previous marriages

For this divorce:
Date of physical separation
County or city court where case heard
Who is the plaintiff?
Which party is the divorce granted to?
Grounds on which divorce granted
Number of children placed in custody of each parent, or in joint custody
Date of final decree of divorce or annulment
Name of plaintiff's lawyer, if the lawyer files the form. (This is a rough guide to how many plaintiffs use lawyers, at least at the beginning of the case).

Which other states have similar forms? Please tell us at divorcereform@usa.net. (When we get the message, we won't automatically know it's in response to this page, so give us some context so we'll know what you're talking about.)

AK: ____
AL: Yes, but no birthplaces; also asks how each party's last previous marriage ended.
AR: ____
AZ: ____
CA: No
CT: Yes, plus how earlier marriages ended, if welfare involved, if family study done. Form is being revised to be a lot more extensive but easier to fill out.
CO: No
DC: ____
DE: Yes
FL: No
GA: Yes, not as much information.
Guam: Yes. Looks like a death certificate.
HI: ____
IA: Yes, also asks how all previous marriages ended.
ID: ____
IL: Yes, plus previous marriages - how they ended
IN: ____
KS: Yes
KY: Yes -- also, Occupation.
LA: ____
MA: Yes, but the only info about the divorce and separation is the final decree date.
MD: Yes.
ME: ____
MI: Yes
MN: Yes.
MO: ____
MS: ____
MT: Yes, filed with the final decree.
NC: ____
ND: ____
NE: ____
NH: Yes
NM: ____
NV: ____
NY: Yes
OH: ____
OK: ____
OR: ____
PA: ____
RI: ____
SC: Yes. Also, contested? Maiden name resumed? No separation date or education.
SD: ____
TN: Yes.
TX: Yes
UT: ____
VA: Yes
VT: ____
WA: Yes
WI: ____
WV: Yes; not quite as much information, just basic facts on parties, marriage, children

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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.