What are the most empirically robust factors that predict divorce?

What are the most empirically robust (causal) factors that predict marital dissolution (divorce)? 

I can give you my guess as to what I believe a rigorous study would reveal based upon my experience as a divorce and family lawyer for the past 25 years. I understand that this is anecdotal evidence, but here’s what I believe, based upon that anecdotal evidence, the empirical evidence would be. 

Now I realize that what you may be asking is what kind of external influences and/or what kind of behaviors may be predictors of divorce. The Freakonomics kind of stuff where someone notices people with library cards are more or less likely to divorce than those who don’t (no, this is not a fact, I’m just using this is an illustrative example of the kind of interesting factoids some people like to find). I don’t have any such observations. But I believe I’ve been practicing divorce and family law long enough to know what causes divorce. 

#1 is a tie: 

  • #1. Mental and/or emotional pathology that goes untreated, unchecked, unmanaged, uncontrolled. These are what lead to physical and emotional abuse, substance abuse, other addictive behaviors, self-harm/suicide attempt, infidelity, and many other things we often believe to be the cause of divorce when they are really symptomatic of the root cause.  
  • #1. Lack of commitment to the marriage. Both individual lack of commitment and a lack of mutual commitment. Successful marriages understand that while individual needs are important, the marriage and family is a cause bigger than each individual spouse. So many fail to understand that devoting yourself to the care and success of your marriage and family makes you a happier individual. Obviously, if and when your spouse is a dysfunctional, toxic, or abusive person, no amount of your individual devotion to the marriage and family can fix that. But two normal spouses of average physical, mental, and emotional health can achieve greater personal happiness and fulfillment by making the welfare of their marriage and family a priority. 

#2. Selfishness. Particularly, the belief that a spouse exists to serve one’s interests, and that if the spouse does not satisfy that subjective standard, then divorce is warranted, perhaps even seen as necessary, in the minds of some people.  

#2(a). Being unequally yoked. This doesn’t mean that both spouses have to do everything a marriage requires in equal measures. It does mean that each one needs to pull his or her own weight, needs to fulfill his and her duties to himself/herself and to each other to ensure the integrity and longevity of the marriage. 

#3. Myopia, impatience, inability to delay gratification, unrealistic expectations. I see many divorces early in a marriage because one or both spouses are shocked to discover that marriage has not fulfilled all of their hopes and dreams within the first few years.  

#4. Letting the cares of the world deplete your capacity to recognize, value, and do what matters most. I’ve seen many a marriage breakdown when too much emphasis is placed on what is otherwise a virtuous thing. Spending too much time at work. Being obsessively concerned with one’s health and appearance. Worrying too much about finances. Rather than bringing a couple closer together, they are wedges that drive couples apart. Sometimes violently, but in many cases they cause a husband and wife to grow apart slowly and imperceptibly until they reach a point of no return.  

#5. Marrying too soon. Being insufficiently mature. 

#6. Marrying too late. Although some believe that it is irresponsible to marry until one has achieved financial independence, it is that very independence that makes an interdependent marriage more difficult to achieve. Marrying later in life, when one is less malleable and more set in his/her ways, makes it harder to make the adjustments a happy and successful marriage requires, and makes it harder to recognize the benefits of sacrificing something good for something better in the context of marriage. 

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277  

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