How Many Divorces Are Recorded Each Year and Other Curious Statistics
Did you know that yours (… if you go there) — and all divorces are recorded? As with many countries, the United States records a majority of its divorces. This means that the state stores the general information about your divorce, including the reason for the divorce, information about the people involved, the date of the marriage, the ending date, and the final agreement.
Courts record divorces to promote transparency in legal matters. It allows the public to understand what happens behind closed courtroom doors. Divorce records are publicly available in all states so that anyone can request divorce information. Some circumstances would allow a person to advocate to have their divorce record sealed, if, for example, it would be really bad for a child, family, or a party’s finances. However, most recorded divorces are available to the public. While it might feel odd to know the basics of all divorces are not private, it actually allows us to learn a lot about divorces over time! This article will look into some interesting or unexpected statistics and stories from the United States’ long history of recording divorces.
How Long Have Divorces Been Recorded?
There is evidence that official divorces were commonplace in the ancient society of Babylon, Mesopotamia, as long ago as 1760 BC. There is no record of specific divorce instances at that time, but there is evidence that divorce was legal and did occur.
King Hammurabi had stone tablets with codified divorce laws. The law allowed men to divorce women with a simple statement and a following payment or fine. But the law required women to obtain a complaint to ask for a divorce and thus go through some ancient judicial process.
The First Recorded Divorce in the United States: Anne Clarke’s Groundbreaking Case
The United States had its first divorce recorded in early January 1643. In a gripping tale of desertion and bigamy, Anne Clarke successfully received a divorce from her husband after he left her and her children to be with his second family. The government granted Anne a divorce and publicly shamed and punished her Ex. While Anne’s divorce was the first recorded in the United States, it likely was not the first. There are letters and details of women and men begging both judges and state legislatures to grant them a divorce. However, very few, if any, divorces were granted before Anne Clarke’s.
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While divorce is always tricky, early United States laws required a woman seeking divorce to prove fault. This means she had to prove that her spouse committed a heinous act. These acts included: cruel and barbarous treatment, bigamy, the conviction of a felony, desertion, and a pattern of horrible behavior. Not only did she have to prove that her spouse’s actions met a requirement for divorce, but she also had to prove that her hands were perfectly clean and that she had not done anything wrong. The shift away from fault-based divorces enabled more women to file for and obtain a divorce.
Learn more about proving the Other wrong in Fault Divorce vs. No Fault Divorce: What You Need to Know.
Where are the Most Divorces Recorded?
The turn of the 20th century brought in a wave of divorces, as they became more commonplace in society. However, most states had very strict, lengthy residency requirements before women could file for divorce in any given state. Given the strict requirements, some states, most notably Nevada, shortened its divorce residency requirement to encourage women to move to the state to qualify for a divorce. Nevada’s plan worked wonders, as it shortened its residency requirement to only six weeks instead of the common six-month to one-year waiting period.
The Rise of Divorce Ranches and the Renowned Reno Divorce Culture
There were also unofficial “divorce ranches,” communities women could live in for six weeks to gain the residency needed for divorces. The most significant and most notable divorce ranch was in Reno, Nevada. The lead-up to divorce was so popular that it was coined “The Reno Divorce,” and the tourism industry marketed the city as the divorce capital of the world. Getting a Reno Divorce was a cultural phenomenon, as many celebrities, including Rita Hayworth, Norman Rockwell, and Mary Rockefeller, partook. In its prime, the city of Reno had thousands of divorces recorded. The number of divorces jumped from about 1,000 per year in the early 1900s to about 19,00 per year by mid-century.
To this day, Nevada still ranks third in the most divorces recorded per 1000 people yearly. It follows only Arkansas and Oklahoma by a small margin. In comparison, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Texas have the lowest numbers of divorces recorded annually. In terms of regional distribution, the South records the highest number of divorces, while the Northeast records the lowest. Regarding when divorces occur, most people file for a divorce between January and March. Some researchers believe this is a side effect of familial tension during the holiday season.
For more on the history of divorce in the United States, check out “Divorce Laws in the United States: Then and Now.”
Worldwide, the United States ranks in the top twenty countries with the highest divorce rates. The country with the most divorces recorded per 1000 people is the Maldives, followed by Kazakhstan, and then Russia. The United States comes in thirteenth for divorce worldwide.
How Many Divorces Have There Been?
In 2020, there were roughly 630,500 divorces recorded across the United States. This was a sharp decrease from the approximately 750,000 recorded in 2019. A recent downward trend in divorces has been recorded over the past decade. This is interesting because some experts say the pandemic increased relationship turmoil and potential divorce because couples had to spend extended periods in close quarters together. However, the decrease in formally recorded divorces might also be partially attributed to the pandemic, as there was limited accessibility to courts, and the courts are still dealing with the pandemic backlog.
Overall, the number of divorces has drastically decreased over time. In 1975, about 1 million divorces were recorded across the United States. Since the turn of the century, over 8.3 million divorces have been recorded in the United States.
Sometimes, it might feel like you are alone in the divorce process. However, millions of people in United States history have been in a similar boat. Accessing information regarding the divorces recorded in the United States allows us to dive into the history, statistics, and divorce trends. This in turn gives us perspective on ourselves, our evolving culture, and how the legal rights of women continue to unfold over the years.
Elizabeth Newland is a third-year law student in Chicago committed to children and family rights. She aims to work in a family-related non-profit firm after graduation.
Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner with them through the emotional and oftentimes complicated experience of divorce. We invite you to learn what’s possible for you and your precious life. Schedule your FREE 15-minute consultation with SAS now.
*We support same-sex marriages. For the sake of simplicity in this article, however, we refer to your spouse as your “husband” or a “he.”