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Risk Factors for Divorce

Type of relationships: common-law relationships (or cohabitation) vs traditional marriage (by church or civil marriage)

No two marriages are the same, neither are the same two divorces. There are no guarantees whether a marriage will end with “‘until death do us part,” or “‘until differences do separate us.” However, there are some factors which can predispose marriages to become a divorce statistic.

Type of relationships: common-law relationships (or cohabitation) vs traditional marriage (by church or civil marriage)

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infographic, risk factors for divorce

In 2011, there were approximately 2,118,000 marriages in the US. This gave the US a marriage rate of 6.8 per 1,000 people. That same year, the US had a divorce rate of 2.6 per 1,000 people.

On the surface, it is easy to say that just over 50% of marriages end in divorce. The reality is a bit more complex, and the following factors all come into play:

Age at Marriage

Divorce lawyers know that youth and immaturity lead many young couples to tie the knot before they may be financially, mentally, or emotionally prepared. Younger couples can expect many changes to occur as they mature and grow older. Chief among them is that their dreams and goals may become dramatically different than those of their partner. This can stress a marriage and break it apart as the wrinkles start to form. Over 50% of couples who married before age 18 end up divorced, and 40% of those who marry before age 20 will as well. However, only 24% of those who married at age 25 or older will get divorced.

Age at Cohabitation

23. According to researchers at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, that is the age at which it is safe to start living with a future partner. Previous studies had linked cohabitation to increased divorce rates, however, research showed there was more to it than that. What really mattered wasn’t whether a couple lived together before getting married; it was the age at which they began living together that mattered most.

Age Difference

Couples who are closer in age tend to stay together longer. In many cases, this is because of shared cultural, historical, and educational experience. This creates stronger bonds between them. Couples where the husband is more than 9 years older than the wife have a divorce rate that is twice that of those couples with a shorter age differential. However, there is a caveat; if the husband is more than 2 years younger than his wife, they will be twice as likely to get divorced.

Religious Harmony

Religious differences can be both a source of strength, and conflict. It’s all how the couples choose to deal with them. Those couples who adopt shared beliefs and religious activities have a divorce rate of roughly 6%. Couples that maintain a separate faith from their spouse have a divorce rate closer to 20%.

Stable Income

Whether a couple lives in poverty or has enough to pay the bills, socioeconomic status plays a considerable role in marital bliss. Those will severe financial hardships can experience divorce rates as high as 44%. By comparison, those in the highest income brackets can experience divorce rates of less than 23%.

Having Children…..or not

Children add stress to marriage, and this stress can drive wedges between couples. Different parenting styles, health problems, and many other factors can create stress around the nursery. For instance, those families with two sons may have a 37% chance of going through a divorce. Those with two daughters? May be as high as 43%. Have children with ADHD? The divorce rate may be 23% greater than other parents who don’t have children with ADHD.

So, having no children would be safer, right? Not quite. Studies have also shown that not having children can be an even greater risk to a marriage. In fact, up to 66% of divorced couples in the US are without children.

Major Medical Issues

Illness can stress a marriage, and serious illness can bring both emotional toil and financial hardship upon a couple. Studies show that if a wife is diagnosed with cancer or multiple sclerosis, there is a considerably greater risk the husband will file for divorce. In fact, it may be as much as a 600% greater risk than if the husband were to be diagnosed with these same illnesses.


Education plays a big role in a marriage. Not only does it help improve a couple’s ability to obtain better employment, it trains a couple to reason, negotiate, and think through their problems. The higher the level of education a couple achieves, the less likely they will be to divorce. However, the caveat to this is level of education completed. Those couples with one or more partners who fail to complete their educations are at greater risk of divorce. And, how you use that education also plays a role. Optometrists have a divorce rate of just over 4%…but nuclear engineers and farmers have divorce rates closer to 7%.

Uncontested divorce lawyer Denise Erlich is passionate about helping divorcing couples in the greater Chicagoland area transition to their new life as seamlessly as possible. Ms. Erlich patiently guides her clients through every step of the divorce process and provides clients with candid advice about their case and legal options, so they can make informed decisions about their future.

Years of Experience: More than 20 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: Illinois State Bar Association U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois
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