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Divorce in the 21st Century: Now vs. Then

“Over 50% of marriages in America end in divorce.” You may have heard this line, as many of us have. But what may surprise you is that it’s not true. In the 21st Century, divorce rates have dropped for various reasons, ranging from a decrease in marriage rates to high legal costs. The divorce rate for 2020 is the lowest it’s been in over 50 years.

So, how did divorce change exactly?

Divorce Rate

Now: Many factors come into play with the divorce rate, but the most novel impact of The 21st Century is the ratio of marriage rates to divorce rates. As the younger generations seem to put off the wedding bells, instead favoring live-in relationships, marriage rates dropped significantly and divorce rates followed suit.

Then: The concept of living with another person before marriage was enough to give some folks a heart attack. Social expectations decades ago would have severely rejected live-in couples. As a result, young couples were encouraged to marry earlier with little to no intimate knowledge of each other’s living habits. With quick marriages came quick divorces.


Now: While divorce rates are not nearly as dramatic as the 50% rule of thumb, it’s still prevalent in the 21st Century. What once may have been controversial is now somewhat normal. With stigmas erased, divorce is even encouraged in some cases. We are emboldened to leave abusive partners and unhappy relationships. In this way, divorce today is not viewed as a tragedy as much as a fresh beginning with blooms of forgiveness, opportunity and happiness.

Then: Back in the day, divorce was rarely encouraged. Rigid values fell on to unhappy marriages. The “Idyllic ’50s” hyper-focused on the security of the family unit as divorce rates took a sharp decline and birthrates doubled. Neat suburban housewives and starch collared husbands were systematically valued, while divorced families were often looked down upon.


Now: Stigma took its first massive drop-off as divorce underwent some serious legal reworking by President (then California Governor) Reagan in 1969. Reagan’s “No-Fault” bill allowed divorces to sway for any reason. Parties didn’t need to drag up (or fabricate) proof of infidelity or mistreatment to be granted permission for a divorce. This heightened the rate of divorce and lessened the drawn-out horror of trials. Ultimately, today if you want a divorce, you get a divorce.

Then: Before 1969, marriages were only granted divorce with proof of cause, known as fault-based divorces. If a divorce was allowed (and only if), the distributed assets were relative to who was the victim and who was at fault. As you can imagine, these divorces came with ample deception and manipulation from both parties.


Now: “Grey Divorce” is a term unique to the 21st Century as divorcees are exploding from an unexpected group: individuals above 50. While the overall divorce rate in America has been decreasing, the rate for couples above 50, has nearly doubled. Why? Experts attribute grey divorces to longer life expectancy coupled with growing financial independence. Now free from stigma and obligation, baby boomers can leave unhappy marriages and pursue a life that was once set aside to marry young and raise children.

Then: Statistically, the average age of divorcing couples has been 30 years old. Couples who marry young often divorce young. While that fact has not changed over the years, older couples’ ability to overcome social shame and financial burdens has unlocked gates to modern divorce.


Now: One possibly surprising part of modern divorce is who is initiating it – women. Psychologists have a variety of reasoning behind this female initiative. Ultimately the prominent and new-founded waves of female strength are empowering women to escape from unhappy marriages.

Then: What may be even more surprising is that women have consistently been the ones to initiate divorce, even decades ago. Divorce rates throughout the years can be linked to women’s financial independence (aka their ability to divorce). For example, in the ’30s, after the Great Depression, women had to rely on men for money. During that time, the divorce rate dropped to record low numbers. But, in the ’40s, as women gained momentum, once again divorce rates spiked. As women’s independence continues to flourish into modern days, they continue to be the ones initiating divorce.


Now: One part of divorce that is certainly not easier in the 21st Century is: you guessed it –COST! On average divorce costs $15,000 to $20,000. Yes, that’s right. For the cost of one divorce, you could buy a car, make a down payment on a home, start an investment portfolio, order a couple thousand pizzas or become a sugar daddy/momma.

With lawyers, trials and the division of assets even the most amicable divorce will cost you a good chunk of funds. If you have real estate or children, the cost only rockets higher with relocation costs and more complicated logistics with the kids.

The cost (both emotional and monetary) doesn’t always end after you sign the dotted line. Things like alimony, housing and potential post-divorce therapy sessions quickly build on to already unexpectedly high expenses. Working side by side with trusted financial advisors during this time can be vital to keeping you on a healthy financial track.

Then: One act that was better back in the day was the financial simplicity of divorce. While the fight of proving fault took a brutal emotional toll, overall ease once fault was established made divorces much less financially taxing. Quickie divorces were common and child care was left up to a judge’s discretion. There were fewer complications from tedious assets to be divided or credit card debt to be bickered about.

In the end, divorce is never simple. Viewing it through the years has taught us that the complexity and cost have increased significantly. While the process can be painful and wallet-draining, the words of Lucille Ball provide some solace: “I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than regret the things I haven’t done”.

Demand Wealth works with independent, financial neutral divorce experts like Jamie Siegal to help you through all the complexities of divorce. You can get started with a video consultation with a Demand Wealth advisor or start an investment portfolio designed to help you re-boot your new, independent life with the ‘Demand New Beginnings’ portfolio.

This report is a publication of Demand Wealth. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date, but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author as of the date of publication and are subject to change.

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