January has received a bad rap as the ‘divorce month,’ despite research showing that March and August are actually the months when divorce rates tend to peak each year. However, since divorce rates tend to taper off during the final months of the year as many couples choose to push back the decision until after the holiday season, January can blame its reputation on seasonal effects – one more example of the importance of seasonally adjusted data.
So let’s talk about divorce, including where you can find data to include in your stories.
The business of divorce
It may be easy to assume that outside of the legal profession, there isn’t much business around divorce, but as it has become less stigmatized over the years, entrepreneurs have embraced divorce as an additional revenue stream. Wedding planners have been hired to plan divorce parties, photographers are hired for divorce photoshoots and Etsy is full of unique divorce-themed merchandise. Even The Wall Street Journal noted that divorce parties were a “hot invite” in 2023.
Divorce laws vary by state, and although every state in the U.S. allows some version of a no-fault divorce – where blame is not needed to be placed on either individual to end the marriage – only 17 states are considered “true no-fault states” where a no-fault divorce is the only kind allowed. In the other 33 states, a person is still allowed to file for an “at-fault” divorce in addition to the no-fault option. Common at-fault reasons include adultery, abuse, abandonment and felony conviction.
Recently, some politicians have complained that it is “too easy” for people to get divorced and want to roll back no-fault legislation first legalized in California in 1969. New York was the last state to legalize a no-fault divorce in 2010. In a 2016 sermon, the current Speaker of the House, Rep. Mike Johnson blamed no-fault laws as one of the reasons for our “completely amoral society” that causes young people to go “into their schoolhouse and open fire on their classmates.”
Where to find information and data
The CDC: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) used to publish the rates of marriage and divorce at the national and state level, but stopped collecting detailed data in 1996. They also stopped publishing monthly provisional data on births, marriages, divorces, and deaths in 2009 that gave reporters up-to-date information. However, their archival reports and website can still be useful as a starting point.
State Health Departments: If you look up your state’s health department, there is a good chance you’ll be able to find downloadable data tables for both marriage and divorce rates in your state. For example, here are the pages for Arizona, Alaska, and Oregon.
The U.S. Census Bureau: Under the Families and Living Arrangements section on their website, you can find information on both marriage and divorce. Their data tables show that marriage and divorce rates in the U.S. have overall decreased in the last ten years, and break down the rates in each individual state.