Since no-fault divorce statutes were first implemented in the United States at the end of the 1960s Zeitgeist (with California being the first state to allow a “no-fault” divorce in 1969), many have cried that there is an epidemic of skyrocketing divorce rates that is only getting higher with the passage of time. Sure, the divorce rate peaked in the 1970s and 1980s shortly after states began adopting no-fault divorce statutes; however, it is uncertain whether that trend actually had more to do with women entering the workforce in substantially greater numbers during that time (thereby improving capabilities of financial independence for women in the United States). Even if the cause of the peaking divorce rates in the 1970s was more attributable to the no-fault divorce statutes that have remained codified to this day, the reality is that the divorce rate is falling.
The New York Times recently published statistics in Claire Cain Miller’s December 2, 2014 article, “The Divorce Surge Is Over, but the Myth Lives On” that indicate the often-heard cry today that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce is fiction—not fact. According to the New York Times article, approximately 70 percent of couples who married in the 1990s have celebrated a 15th wedding anniversary, which is approximately five percentage points higher than couples who wed in the 1970s and 1980s (this data of course excludes marriages that end as a result of a spouse’s death). Based on data compiled by the University of Michigan, this fact means that if current trends continue, approximately two-thirds of marriages will never end with divorce.
So what is the cause of the current strength of the marriage institution? The New York Times article cites the trend of marriages commencing later in the lives of the spouses, birth control, and according to William Doherty, a professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota and marriage therapist, “changes in women’s expectations.” The delay in marriage for many Americans today is a significant factor, especially for women. According to the New York Times article, the median age for women when they began their marriage in the 1950s was 20 years; whereas, in 2004, it was 26 years. For men, the median age at the time of marriage in the 1950s was 23, which increased by four years of age to 27 in 2004.
Ironically, more liberal attitudes about modern living and family have actually contributed to the divorce rate declining. According to Stephanie Coontz, author of “Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage” and professor at Evergreen State College, the increased acceptance of single-parent families has caused a reduction in the number of “shotgun marriages,” which Coontz explains are usually not the most stable of marriages. Another contributing factor to the declining divorce rate according to the New York Times article is the fact that many people now live together before marrying, which allows the more ill-fated relationships to end in breakups before marriage even commences (as opposed to divorce after marriage).
The state of marriage in the State of Texas appears to be no different from these nation-wide statistics. Divorce filings in 2014 were down by about 30 percent from what the filing rate was in the Lone Star State nearly 20 years ago. If, however, you are a Texas resident who is contemplating divorce, then you would do well to consult with a family law attorney who is familiar with the District Courts in the county where you reside.