Towards understanding the reasons for divorce

Towards understanding the reasons for divorce

Ilene Wolcott and Jody Hughes

Working Paper No. 20 — June 1999

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The personal, family and community consequences and costs of high rates of marriage breakdown and divorce have focused national attention on developing policies and strategies to prevent family breakdown. Among the most frequently asked questions are: Why do marriages break down? What are the reasons for divorce? How can marriage and family relationships be strengthened?

The data presented in this paper are drawn from the Australian Divorce Transitions Project, a random national telephone survey of 650 divorce Australians, conducted by the Australian Institute of Family Studies in late 1997. The survey collected information on the perceived main reason for divorce - the focus of this Working Paper. The survey also included information about whether assistance was sought during the marriage, aspects of post-divorce adjustment, and reflections of regret. These aspects are examined in relation to the main reason for divorce.

The majority of men and women in this study mentioned affective dimensions of their marriage relationship - encompassing communication problems, incompatibility, changed lifestyle desires and instances of infidelity - as the main reason for their divorce. The dominance of relational reasons may reflect the higher expectations of self-fulfilment in marriage and decreasing tolerance of unsatisfying relationships observed by many commentators on marriage and divorce. Differences between men and women emerged where abusive behaviour was cited as a main reason.

Implications for implementing strategies to strengthen marriage and family relationships, and further research agendas, are discussed in this paper.

Authors and Acknowledgements

Appreciation is extended to Bruce Smyth, Research Officer at the Australian Institute of Family Studies, for his contribution to the methodology section and for his general support during the completion of this Working Paper.   

Publication details

Working Paper
No. 20
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, June 1999.
38 pp.
0 642 39466 0
Suggested citation:

Wolcott, I., & Hughes, J. (1999). Towards understanding the reasons for divorce (Working Paper No. 20). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.

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