GLOBAL DIVORCE TRENDS: What are the trends that are emerging globally with respect to divorce? In this post, our legal director Lawyer X opines about divorce and Family Law trends around the world.
DIVORCE & WOMEN
Globally, women are still economically disadvantaged to a much greater extent than men following divorce. From the Far East, South America, Africa, the Americas and Europe, more women than men seem to have trouble finding their financial footing after a marriage ends. In New York and London, the law with respect to spousal support/equitable distribution leans towards preserving the “standard of living” during the marriage, after a divorce. This is not true in all jurisdictions. In Germany, Norway and even France, for instance, the laws definitely are aimed at cutting off maintenance after a certain point and leaving each spouse to fend for themselves notwithstanding the marital standard of living.
Aside from the occasional female celebrity or female CEO who out-earns her husband, most women make a fraction of what their husbands make and after a divorce, there is a global trend that men start to have more disposable income, and women skew towards less disposable income. The problem is particularly acute when there are children involved, in spite of child support laws in most countries. So it can be argued that divorce disadvantages women quite significantly – financially speaking — vis a vis men.
There are some advantages to being a woman though. Women are still more likely than men to get spousal support after a divorce. And except for some Muslim countries, they are 75% more likely to win custody of minor children. Further, statistics seems to imply that prenup challenges against the female spouse are less likely to be sustained than prenup challenges against the male spouses. In other words, when the wife challenges the prenup she is more likely to win than a husband is; but courts around the world are upholding prenups to a greater degree than before.
DIVORCE & RELIGION
In 2009 we wrote that “religion, particularly Christianity, is factoring into divorce less and less.” This is still true. All across the globe, including the last bastions of religious conservatism/extremism in the Middle East, the rate of divorce is climbing and people (especially women) seem less inclined to let their religious beliefs trap them in an unhappy marriage. Countries like Iran in the East and Mexico in the West have seen huge spikes in their divorce rates.
In Latin America, the Catholic Church has historically served as a hedge against divorce, as most in Latin America identify as Catholics and have traditionally adhered to the Church’s teachings about the evils of divorce. But the Church is less an issue for most folks in Mexico. Especially now that Mexico has become a “no fault” jurisdiction and more women are earning their own salaries. Other Latin countries are trending similarly.
In the Mideast, (including Israel) things are slower to change but change is definitely occurring. With the possible exception of Saudi Arabia, even in the Muslim World where divorce has historically been frowned upon. and women have been kept under the veil, more marriages are crumbling. I read recently that the divorce rates in Muslim countries like Iran, for instance, are on the rise. In 2009 in Yemen, an 8 year old girl even went to Court to divorce her 30 year husband, gaining international fame as a result. In the UAE and other Islamic strongholds, divorce rates are rising.
In New York, religion does not seem to play a significant role in the divorce calculus for most people. Same is true for other “blue states” in the North, like Maine for instance, a hugely “secular” population, where the divorce rates were second only to Nevada as being the highest in the United States. Surprisingly New York and New Jersey have some of the lowest divorce rates in the country as of 2013.
In traditional Bible Belt states such as, Florida, divorce is climbing furiously as well. Even pastors are giving their congregations a run for their money where divorce is concerned. In recent years in Utah, the Catholic Bishops came out with a letter detailing a number of issues they had with their constituents, and defending DOMA. Among other things, you guessed it, the climbing rate of divorce amongst Catholics (in addition to homosexuality, contraceptive use and fornication) was one of the main things on their minds.
Across the pond, I don’t see the Church of England having a huge impact on people’s perception of divorce, given the high rate of divorce there. After all, London is known as the “divorce capital of the World.” For Londoners, this bit of divorce information must be pretty sobering.
Jewish divorces have been under siege lately due to the rise in “GET” fraud and extortion cases in New York and around the world. An alarming number of well-known rabbis and beth dins have been implicated.
DIVORCE & CUSTODY
Even here in the United States, notwithstanding what you will hear to the contrary, custody of underage children is still pretty much won by the mother after a divorce, except in some exceptional circumstances. In states like New York, the written law is that there is no “tender age rule” however, the net result most of the time is that women are getting custody. However, change is occurring globally on this issue and men are slowly but surely chipping away at this stereotype and demanding their rights. The FATHER’S RIGHTS MOVEMENT is in full swing.
There is also a rising number of child abduction cases across the globe. In Japan, the issue of custody was brought to the collective global consciousness when an American father was arrested and jailed in Tokyo for “kidnapping” his children who had been, in his words, “kidnapped” by their mother and taken to Japan without his consent. Japan, which is a signatory to the Hague Convention , and for years has vowed to re-evaluate its custody laws as a result of that case. But things have been and continue to be slow to change in Japan. At the present time, the country definitely follows the Tender Age Doctrine and the mother is the presumptive custodial parent.
As for Hague Convention cases, these are numerous and some lawyers have been able to create niche practices just handling these types of cases. Enforcement of Hague Convention rulings continue to be a challenge in at least some corridors of the globe. But North America and most of Europe seem to have less enforcement problems with this issue.
It is not, however, as if the entire globe is universally prone to award custody to the mother. In Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, for example, there is still a presumption of paternal custody whether he is a “fit” parent or not. In fact, in Saudi Arabia, even grandfathers would have more right to custody of children than their own mother!
But there is this other trend, which is totally unexpected, where more women DO NOT want custody of the children and are happily handing custody over to their husbands after a divorce. This, along with the trend towards more “celebration” of divorces (with divorce parties, for example) and shacking up with much younger men after divorce (cougar style) goes to show that as time goes on, the stereotypical role of women in the family, and post-divorce, will completely go the way of the dinosaur.
PRENUPS & DIVORCE
Globally, prenuptial agreements are gaining favor, even, for example, in Great Britain (the “Divorce capital of the World”), where, traditionally, the prenup has not been enforced and clearly not worth the paper it is printed on. Back in 2009 in Britain, Baroness Deech called for divorce reforms in England and for these pre-marital contracts to be enforced by English Courts. She got her wish when Divorce Solicitor extraordinaire Ayesha Vardag and her team at her London firm Vardags won a Landmark ruling in 2012 on prenups. The Radmacher decision literally catapulted the solicitor and her firm to global fame.
Here in the United States, prenups are presumptively enforceable for the most part. As I said back in 2009, I can think of no state in the Union where the prenup is presumptively unenforceable. More and more American couples are entering into prenuptial agreements to protect their assets in the event of divorce.
More than half the states in the U.S. have opted into the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act. In fact, these states are all signatories: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin) Pursuant to the Act, parties can enter into an agreement without consideration and still, it will be enforceable. Interestingly, New York is still not a signatory to this Act.
Back in 2009 I wrote “Here in the United States, New York is probably the only “fault” jurisdiction left. What that means is that unless you can prove grounds, you cannot get out of a marriage in New York State.” Well, that is no longer true. New York has abolished its old laws to allow no fault divorces in the State. This happened a couple of years ago.
In All US states today all a party has to prove is “irreconcilable differences” even though many do have other grounds upon which a marriage can be dissolved.
But that works both ways. In Arizona, for example, I read a few month back that some folks are calling for “no fault” to be abolished. They feel it allows men in particularly to too easily leave their families financially disadvantaged, amongst other things. Around the world, no fault divorces are gaining favor. Look at Mexico for example which recently became “no fault.” And Brazil. But with no fault has come a corresponding rise in the global divorce rate. Or so the argument goes.
In Europe, no fault divorces seems to be de rigueur, except in Italy where the Church seems to hold much sway, still. In Spain, a recent study shows that Spaniards have no hang ups about divorce and are second only to Brazil as far as their approval of divorce.
In the Mideast, not so much. Women in particular seem to be put through the washer to get out of their marriages. Not to pick on Saudi Arabia, but it seems the biggest transgressor as far as this issue is concerned. It literally gives the husband veto power if the wife gets the divorce or not. Some of the rules seem particularly arcane, if not ludicrous. Ditto for India. Interestingly, India’s divorce rates are on the upswing and an article in the Times of India a couple of years back blamed it on “sex starved marriages.” But as the love marriage becomes the norm in the country and arranged marriages recede, India’s divorce rates will probably be through the ceiling in less than 10 years.
China, too. I read the other day that in China, you can get out of a bad marriage in just one day, following the reforms in 2003.
What about Africa? Africa is a more complicated issue. I have not been able to decipher the trends there yet. It is clear that Nigerians are doing better than most of their neighbors from an economic point of view and many are traveling and immigrating to the West – especially to the UK. So there is a bit of a cultural shift going on and this is affecting marriage and divorce norms in the country. I’ve done a few posts on South Africa, for example. But since there are so many religions, customs and ethnicities, it will take a bit more time for me to figure out the patterns on the Continent as a whole. Suffice to say that according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the Maldives had the highest rate of divorce in the world in 2013.
In the Caribbean, I am thinking that no fault is also the emerging trend, even though divorce does not appear to be as pressing an issue in the islands as it is in more developed nations. But it is notably that the tiny Caribbean island of Antigua and Barbuda have the tenth highest divorce rate in the world according to the 2013 Guiness Book of World Records. In the Dominican Republic, Americans and other non-residents can obtain “quickie divorces” from the island nation – no questions asked.
DIVORCE IN THE EAST VS. THE WEST
There is no question that divorce is more commonplace in the West. The East is definitely seeing rising divorce rates, but what they call “rising” almost insignificant when compared with us on the other side of the Atlantic. China’s divorce rate is somewhere around 20%. They see that as an “epidemic.” In Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong and Japan, the rates of divorce are on the rise. But it is relative when one looks at countries like Sweden where more than 50% of marriages end in divorce, and the United States and other developed countries where the rate of failed marriages is north of 40%. Belarus, Ukraine and Russia had some of the highest divorce rates in Europe.
There is no contest between East and West where divorce is concerned, even though all countries are trending upwards as far as divorce rates per my observation. In other words, there is not one country in the world where I can think of that has a falling divorce rates. But some rates of divorce are just off the charts where others are still modest, though rising.
It is not just secular societies. In traditionally ultra conservative Jewish Orthodox demographies places like Israel (well, this is technically Mideast as opposed to East), for instance, divorces are up as with every other group.
Although, in Iceland, a European state, and also a historically Pagan one, I read the the rate of divorce is pretty “stable” when compared to European and other Eastern European countries.
In South Asia, the divorce rate though rising, is still the lowest in the world. India, and Sri Lanka, for instance, have divorce rates under ten percent. What is this attributable to? That is a good question. But it is interesting to note that most marriages in these countries are still arranged, versus “love” marriages in Europe and the West – even though, as noted earlier, this is changing rapidly in the last couple of years.
GAY DIVORCE VS. STRAIGHT DIVORCE
Gays who have gained the right to marry in several US states since this article was first written. New York is probably the most notable. In Europe countries like France quickly followed suit. The Supreme Court has deemed DOMA unconstitutional.
DIVORCE & DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Domestic violence is on the rise the world over. And divorce seems to exacerbate this. In fact, I would even say that in so called developed countries like Britain and United States, the problem has reached pandemic proportions. A few years ago in Britain, two men were convicted of manslaughter for slaughtering their wives. In each case, the subject of divorce had come up and the husbands went ballistic and killed their wives. None of these men were convicted of murder, only manslaughter, and both will serve only a modicum of time in jail. In other parts of Europe, Africa and Latin America this problem continues to persist.
Domestic violence does not seem to discriminate as far as race, socio-economic group, education, orientation, or other variables.
DIVORCE & BILLIONAIRES
Economic factors tend to be mitigating where divorce is concerned. In other words, the more money people have, the less they seem inclined to divorce. But since the global recession of 2008, it seems that billionaires (and almost billionaires) the world over, have been having a tough time hanging on to their marriages. One thinks of folks like Sumner Redstone, Boris Berezovsky, Roman Abramovich, Henry Silverman, Silvio Berlusconi, Steve Wynn, Scot Young, Peter Brant, Ali Bongo, Bernie Ecclestone, Dmitry Rybolovlev, Allen Stanford, Russell Simmons, George David, Andrew Madoff, Rupert Murdoch, Harold Hamm, Elie Hirschfeld, Laurence Graff, James Clarke, Elon Musk, and Tim/Edra Blixeth, amongst others, who had their marriages implode in the last 5 years.
Very few billionaires –the world over – did not have a prenuptial agreement but there were some notable ones like the Rybolovlev case and a few others.
DIVORCE & CELEBRITY
Celebrities continue to dominate the divorce headlines. Recent divorces include Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony; Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas, and Kim Kardashian. Other interesting celebrity divorce rumours include Gwyneth Paltrow and Cris Martin and Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones.
DIVORCE & ADULTERY
By and large, adultery tends to lead to divorce more often than not. This trend crosses racial and socio-economic lines. But folks are inclined to get divorced for other benign reasons such as “growing apart.”
DIVORCE & SOCIAL NETWORKING & TECHNOLOGY
Lately, there has been a global trend with using social networking to end a marriage or at least ruin it. We saw that in Saudi Arabia a few years agp where a couple of husbands texted their wives “I divorce you” three times according to Sharia Law and got out of their marriages. We saw it in Britain where a couple of people got on Facebook and we saw it here in New York with YOUTUBE sensation Tricia Walsh Smith back in 2009. But more importantly is how courts and divorce lawyers are using FACEBOOK and TWITTER rants as well as INSTAGRAM and pinterest to snare spouses in divorce cases and people are all the wiser. There is still reckless behavior but it is becoming more not less controlled – in some contexts. In others, such as onliine defamation of spouses, we still see a lot of that happening even among sophisticated well educated people. Like lawyers!
In another context, in places like Brazil, the government is even allowing people to divorce on the Internet no questions asked! This is the advantage (or disadvantage depending on how you look at it) of improved technologies. Plus, technology such as GPS, text messages and emails are front and center in a lot of divorce trials (usually to prove adultery.)
Originally published November 2, 2009. Last updated June 21, 2014