The ‘catastrophic’ results of divorce: marriage failure rate drops by 60%

Arguments concerning the ‘detrimental’ effects of divorce may have to be reformulated in the light of recent research published in Ireland, where the 1997 Divorce Act was accompanied by a staggering drop of more than 60% in the rate of marriage breakdown.

Entitled ‘Family Figures: Family dynamics and family types in Ireland, 1986-2006’, the study in question was carried out by the Economic and Social Research Institute (Ireland) and the University College Dublin, on behalf of the Irish government’s Family Support Agency.

Its main findings, published in February 2010, appear to nullify one of the core arguments currently employed by Malta’s anti-divorce lobby – namely, that the introduction of divorce to Malta would weaken, undermine or possibly even destroy the nation’s social fabric, as it has done in ‘every other country where divorce was introduced”.

On the contrary, the ECRI/UCD study concluded that “there is no evidence that the introduction of divorce in 1997 affected the trend in marital breakdown”. Not only that, but the published statistics appear to suggest a dramatic reduction in that trend directly after divorce was made available.

 “When the rate of marriage breakdown was examined by comparing previous census returns, the biggest increase was between 1986 and 1996, the decade before divorce was introduced, with a rate of increase of 65.2%.

“This increase slowed to 24% over the next six years, and slowed again to only 3.3% between 2002 and 2006.”

This represents a gradual reduction of around 62% in the rate of failed marriages over the nine years following 1997.

As such, the report directly contradicts the findings of a recent study conducted locally by the Cana Movement, entitled ‘For Worse Not for Better’, which had concluded that: “The introduction of divorce legislation in other countries has not solved any of the problems which it was expected to solve (like cohabitation, out of wedlock births and marriage breakdown)”, and that “divorce undermines the family and marriage”.

However, one of the Irish report’s main authors, UCD’s Prof. Tony Fahey, recommends caution in analyzing the conclusions.

“We don’t have a good explanation for why the marriage breakdown rate decreased,” he said when contacted by this newspaper on Monday. “What we can say is that two things happened over the relevant period. One, the average age of people entering marriage rose, suggesting that younger marriages may have been more prone to failure than those between older couples. Two, the incidence of cohabitation between couples in their 20s increased considerably.”

Fahey also warns that a drop in the annual rate of marriage breakdown does not necessarily correspond with a strengthening of relationships over the same time-frame: “It could be that a lot of relationships are now breaking up during cohabitation stage, before the couples enter into marriage.”

As Ireland currently lacks legislation regulating cohabitation (of the kind currently being debated by Malta’s parliament), this also means that such relationship failures would not be formally ‘registered’ in any way.

However, Fahey reaffirms the main findings of the study, including that the divorce law of 1997 had no impact on the stability or otherwise of Irish families.

“Personally I was not at all surprised, because I never thought divorce would have any noticeable effect. But I was slightly surprised that the rate of marriage breakdown eventually levelled off completely in the early half of this decade. Considering how high it was 20 years earlier, I expected it to take longer.”

Another interesting aspect to emerge from the study is that despite the availability of divorce after 1997, only around 50% of marriages to have broken down since then have actually ended in divorce.

The remaining half continued to avail of the already existing options of either Church/civil annulment, or legal separation: a fact which suggests that traditional religious values continued to play a dominant role in Irish society notwithstanding the introduction of divorce.

Ireland, a predominantly Catholic country that was widely compared to Malta during the EU referendum campaign, introduced divorce by act of Parliament following a nationwide referendum to overturn a Constitutional ban.

The same 1997 Irish divorce law also provides the blueprint for the Divorce Act recently put forward as a private member’s bill by Nationalist MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando.

carmel duca
@falke You are right about the The Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010, except that it has not yet come into force. About the 'deep recession', however, kindly note that the study quoted above covered the years 1986 to 2006. The recession started being felt in earnest after September 2008.
John Mifsud
Mr Vassallo, you are not up to date about Ireland. The Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010 was passed earlier this year. The deep recession is thought to have dampned the urge for spouses to seek pastures new. Starting new families and maintaining previous ones does not come cheap.
like everything else there is good and bad in every thing that exists , like there is day there is night if the is soft there is hard. what good there is if there is not bad? and what bad there is if there is not a knife was intended to cut bread it is used to kill- with everything that was invented , can be used for bad doings . everything that exists can be for good or for bad-so we take off all guns?(well guns are very bad- but must be used to control other evil doers) all cars ? all knives -all ropes everything ? eheheh out of discussion right? sure. so this thing about divorce will do all bad- stop the nonsense - it's the money that its the reason for saying "IT'S A SIN". and there is no other thing -power is money , money is power! well enough for now, thanks maltatoday newspaper . to be continued....
joanne zarb
Dear Mr. Gouder, as the saying on the interwebz goes.... PWN'D!!