2. GENERAL TRENDS
Divorce Traditional nuclear
Re-marriages family households
Cohabitation First marriages
Lone parent families Women having fewer
People who live alone children
Marrying later in life
Know the main changes in partnerships – with particular
reference to divorce and partnerships
Be able to analyse and evaluate the reason for these changes
in families and households
4. WHY STUDY DIVORCE?
Major cause for changing family patterns and greater family
One person households
5. WHAT IS THE EXTENT OF THE CHANGE?
Divorce has doubled between 1961 to 1969
But…doubled again between 1969 and 1972
Divorce in 2001 was six times higher than in 1961
7/10 petitions for divorce come from women, but in 1946
only 37% came from women.
So what has happened?
6. EXPLANATIONS FOR THE INCREASE
Changes in the law
Declining stigma and changing attitudes
Rising expectations in marriage
Changes in the position of women
Also other factors
Higher risk of divorce if…
Cohabit before marriage
One or both partners married before
8. DIVORCE LAW
Before 1857 – virtually non-existent, costly and only
obtainable through an Act of Parliament
1857 – men could divorce unfaithful wives BUT women had to
prove husbands’ cruelty or infidelity. Divorce still costly.
1923 – grounds for divorce equalised for men and women
1937 – grounds widened to include cruelty and desertion
1949 – legal aid available making divorce more af fordable
1969 – Divorce Law Reform Act (came into ef fect in 1971)
This made irretrievable breakdown of marriage the sole ground
for divorce – established by proving unreasonable behaviour,
adultery, desertion, separation. Divorce was available after 2
years of agreed separation or 5 if one partner did not agree.
9. DIVORCE LAW
1984 – the minimum period when divorce could be sough was
reduced from 3 years to 1
1996 – Family Law Act encourages couples to seek mediation
but allows divorce after a period of reflection
2004 – Civil Partnership Act allows the dissolution for civil
partnerships on the same grounds as for a marriage
2007 – appeal court ruling, in divorce the principle of equality
applies – the starting point of the split is 50:50 of all assets
including salaries and pension rights.
11. CHANGES IN THE LAW
Equal grounds Widening grounds
12. CHANGES IN THE LAW
When the grounds were equalised in 1923 – sharp rise in the
number of divorce petitions from women
1971 – irretrievable breakdown
1949 – introduction of legal aid
Each change has resulted in a rise in the divorce rate
Divorce is the legal termination of the marriage. Couples can and
do find alternatives…
Desertion – where one partner leaves the other but the couple
remain legally married
Legal separation – when a court separates the financial and
legal affairs of the couple but they remain married and are not
free to re-marry
Empty shell marriage – the couple continue to live under the
same roof but remain married in name only
Since divorce has become more available these solutions have
become less popular.
15. DECLINING STIGMA AND CHANGING
Stigma is a negative label of social disapproval or shame
attached to a person, action or relationship.
The church tended to condemn divorce and often
refused to conduct marriage services involving
Mitchell and Goody (1997) note that an important
change since the 1960s has been the rapid decline in
the stigma attached to divorce
As the stigma declines and divorce become more
socially acceptable couples are more likely to see
divorce as a means of solving marital problems. It has
Secularisation refers to the decline in the influence in
religion in society.
Many sociologists argue that religious institutions are losing
their influence on society. They point to evidence such as
church attendance being in decline.
The results are…
The traditional opposition of the church to divorce carries
less weight in society
People are less likely to be influenced by religious teachings Many churches are
when making decisions. also softening their
views on divorce.
2001 census – 47% of those with no religion were
cohabiting compared to 34% of Christians, 17% of Muslims
and 11% of Hindus and 10% of Sikhs.
17. RISING EXPECTATIONS OF MARRIAGE
The higher expectations people place on marriage
today are a major cause of rising divorce rates. Higher
expectations make couples less willing to tolerate an
This is linked to the ideology of romantic love.
Marriage should be based only on love and for each
individual there is a Mr or Miss “right”.
18. RISING EXPECTATIONS OF MARRIAGE
In the past individuals had little choice in whom they
At the time when the family was a unit of production
marriages were often out of duty to one’s family or for
Under these circumstances people were less likely to
have high expectations and were less likely to be
dissatisfied by the absence of romance and intimacy.
19. RISING EXPECTATIONS OF MARRIAGE
“Love, personal commitment and intrinsic satisfaction are now seen as the
cornerstones of marriage, the absence of these feelings is itself a justification
for ending the relationship.”
Takes an optimistic view of marriage.
Marriage continues to be popular, most adults marry and the high number
of re-marriages show that society has not rejected marriage as in institution.
20. CRITICS OF THIS VIEW…
feminists argue that the oppression of women within the
marriage and family is the main cause of marital conflict
and divorce and think that functionalists ignore this.
Functionalists offer an explanation for the rise in divorce
rate but do not explain why it is mainly women who petition
21. CHANGES IN THE POSITION OF WOMEN
One reason that women may seek divorce is due to
improvements in their economic position.
Women are more likely to be in paid work.
47% in 1959 to 70% in 2005
Anti-discrimination laws have helped to narrow the pay gap
Girls’ greater success in education how help them to pursue
Welfare benefits mean that women no longer have to remain
financially depended on their husbands
22. CHANGES IN THE POSITION OF WOMEN
Marriage less embedded in the economic system
Fewer family firms
Spouses not so financially interdependent
This means that they do not have to tolerate each other in the absence of love –
more willing to seek divorce.
Feminists also argue that the women as wage earners has created a new source
of conflict between husbands and wives and this is leading to more divorce.
23. FEMINIST VIEW
Although there has been reform in the work place and education
(the public sphere) change in the family and home (the private
sphere) has been much slower.
Marriage remains patriarchal with men benefitting from the “triple
For many women the home compares unfavourably to work
At work women feel valued and at home frustrated due to the pressures of
housework and men's continuing resistance to helping in the home
As more women work, this leaves less time and energy for the emotional work
needed to address the problems – this contributes to divorce.
24. FEMINIST VIEW
Working mothers are more likely to petition for divorce than women in
relationships with a traditional division of labour.
Where the husband of a working wife is actively involved in housework the
likelihood of divorce falls to the same levels of those in traditional roles.
Many women feel a growing dissatisfaction with patriarchal marriage, she sees the
evidence that most petitions come from women as evidence of their growing
acceptance of feminist ideas and women becoming more informed of patriarchal
oppression and more confident in rejecting it.
25. DO SOCIOLOGISTS AGREE?
See high divorce rate as undesirable as it undermines the traditional nuclear
family. It creates an underclass of welfare dependent female lone parents and
leaves boys without the male adult role model they need.
Disagree…they see the high divorce rate as desirable as it shows women breaking
free of the oppression of patriarchy.
26. DO SOCIOLOGISTS AGREE?
View a high divorce rate as giving individuals the freedom top choose to end a
relationship when it no longer meets their needs. They see it as a cause of greater
A high divorce rate does not prove that marriage is under threat. It is simple a
result of high expectations of marriage. The high rate of re-marriage shows
peoples’ commitment to the idea of marriage.
27. DO SOCIOLOGISTS AGREE?
They aim to understand what divorce means to the individual.
Morgan (1996) argues that we cannot generalise about the meaning of divorce
because every individual’s interpretation is different.
Mitchell and Goody provide an example of this. One of their interview was
described the day her father left as one of the happiest in her life, where another
said she had never recovered from her father deserting the family.