“How I Love Lucy was born? We decided that instead of divorce lawyers profiting from our mistakes, we’d profit from them.”—Lucille Ball
Marriage is like chicken pox: if we’re lucky, we should only have to do it once. Or at least that’s the popular idea. A glance at modern statistics, however, suggests most married people are not so lucky. But it’s a common misconception that divorce is a modern phenomenon that goes against the “traditional” family. Divorce is arguably as old as marriage itself, and mechanisms for separating couples have existed for thousands of years.
There are plenty of reasons these unions end: adultery, growing apart, political convenience, or when you’re in ancient Turkey and he doesn’t bring home enough coffee. Even after the marriage, there are children to account for, property to divide, and more salacious drama to be had; obviously, divorce doesn’t spell “the end.” Keep reading for 43 facts about the twisted history of separation.
43. Matter of State, Not Church
Ironically, the oft-married Henry VIII made it harder for your everyday English subject to escape a marriage. Before his separation from Rome, a couple could attain an annulment through the Catholic Church if they found to be distantly related. In Henry’s brave new world of the English Church, this route was eliminated. Now, a wannabe divorcee had to pass their claim via an act of Parliament, where it was voted on by both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. These reforms turned the affair into a costly process that effectively made divorce a luxury for the wealthy and well-connected.
42. Marriage is the Real Full-Time Job
The top three most divorced professions are dancers/choreographers, bartenders, and massage therapists. Casino workers, telephone operators, nurses, and home health aides are also unlucky in love, at least statistically. Considering the high stress meets low pay combo involved in these jobs, can we blame them? Compare these to the least divorced professions: agricultural engineers, sales representatives, nuclear engineers, optometrists, clergy, and podiatrists. Note how these jobs are often stressful but are generally fairly compensated.
41. A Woman’s Needs (For Separation)
Great Britain did not officially grant all women the right to divorce their husbands until the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857. Even then, a wannabe divorcee had to prove her husband had been cheating on her. And even then, she had to prove adultery in addition to other cruelties such as incest or abuse. In 1801, Jane Addison made the landmark case for this statute: she was only able to get separation from her husband after proving that he slept with her sister, thereby checking off both the “adultery” and “incest” boxes in one fell swoop.
40. A Nation Whole; A Marriage Divided
Ronald Reagan was the first divorced president of the United States. Ironically, this status was the result of his political views. In 1948, Reagan and his first wife, fellow actress Jane Wyman, split after an argument about Reagan’s ambitions and their differing opinions on politics. Ironically, Reagan was a Democrat at the time, and it was Wyman who was the Republican.
39. Take Two is Better for Me & You
Practice makes perfect: second marriages are less likely to end in divorce because couples bring “experience” forward from their last try. According to the Marriage Foundation, about 45% of first marriages will end in divorce, compared to “just” 31% of second marriages.
38. Breaking Up is So Yesterday
Whereas the Athenian and Roman Empires allowed divorce, the early Roman Catholic Church did not. As a result, divorce rates in Europe declined in the ninth and tenth centuries, thanks to the new concept that marriage was a sacrament instituted by Jesus Christ himself. Let no man tear asunder, and all that.
37. Eight Year Itch
At least in the United States, divorce-bound first marriages tend to last about eight years.
36. Double Trouble
Parents of twins (or triplets) are more likely to get divorced than their one-kid-at-a-time counterparts. Unsurprisingly, suddenly having more kids than expected can take a financial and emotional toll on a couple.
35. First, Second & Third Ladies
To date, Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump are the only US presidents to have been divorced.
34. Late Update
Parts of Europe took their sweet time to get aboard the modern train. Italy did not introduce formal divorce law until 1970, Ireland until 1995, and Malta until 2011.
33. No Takesie Backsies
Divorce is completely illegal in the Philippines unless you’re a Muslim Filipino. The only way married couples can split is by getting a civil annulment, and that can be an extremely long and expensive process. As a result, there are many people in the country who, while still technically married, enter relationships with other people.
32. Ripe and Ready to GTFO
Apparently, young love is overrated. Couples who marry after the age of 25 are a whopping 24% less likely to end in divorce. Keep your quarter-life crisis for outside of the wedding altar, I guess.
31. Blue and True
To our surprise, red states have higher divorce rates than states blue states, according to a 2008 poll. Maybe, knowing what we learned in fact 32, this has something to do with the fact that red state couples marry much earlier.
30. Will This Be On The Test?
The benefits of a bachelor’s degree are plentiful, but could they prevent a visit to Splitsville? In the US, those who attend college are 13% less likely to get divorced. Of course, correlation doesn’t equal causation. Maybe being able to afford higher education means you’re less likely to deal with the money problems that can break apart a marriage?
29. Staying for the Boys
According to a 2017 Dutch study, parents of teen girls are more likely to get divorced than parents of teen boys. Up until the eldest kid is aged 12, there’s no gendered difference in divorce rates for families with children. However, this rate peaks at age 15, when couples with daughters are 10% more likely to split up than their son-“blessed” counterparts. Parents of daughters were more likely to disagree about how to raise their children. The weight of gender roles is felt by everyone, to the detriment of family relations.
28. The Waiting Game
Women, on average, wait 3.1 years before remarrying after a divorce, while men wait slightly longer at 3.3 years.
27. It’s Not My Fault
For a politician who ran on conservative and “family” values, divorce seemed to haunt the career of Ronald Reagan. Under his governorship, California became the first state in the USA to legalize no-fault divorce, an arrangement wherein a marriage is dissolved without the proof of “wrongdoing” by either party.
26. State of Affairs
If you ask the 2012 US Census, the least divorced state is New Jersey. The most divorced state is Nevada, home of the quickie marriage. That part is this ironic or not ironic, depending on your angle.
25. I’m Sick of You
To make an understatement, serious illness sucks. Divorce can also suck, but this dynamic duo gets more depressing when you consider gender inequality in the mix. Wives diagnosed with serious illness are more likely to end up divorced than husbands with serious illness. In fact, marriages where the wife is diagnosed with cervical cancer are twice as likely to end as ones where the husband is diagnosed with testicular cancer. Women really cannot catch a break in this list, can’t they?
24. Let’s Write This Off
People of the Jing ethnic minority group in China consider it bad luck to keep the pen used to sign your divorce papers. These writing tools are promptly thrown away alongside the marriage.
23. Dubious Honors
Asian women are the least-divorced social group in the US, at least compared to other women of different races. At one point, the Center for Disease Control concluded that 70% of Asian women were still in their first marriage, as opposed to just 54% of white women, 53% of Hispanic women, and 37% of black women.
22. Single & Risky (To Invest In)
Until 1974, banks rarely issued credit cards to women unless their husbands co-signed. Divorced women were considered especially risky because they “couldn’t keep a marriage under control,” so how could banks expect them to maintain their spending? These days, I charge statements like that to my BS account.
21. Down the Drain
Flush your matrimonial regrets down the toilet, literally, at the Mantokuji Temple. This Japanese attraction lets women write down their “bad karma” on a piece of paper, drop it into the bowl, and watch it go down the pipes. Before you think it’s all scatological jokes, you should know this temple was once a legitimate asylum for women who had no other way to cut ties with their husbands. With modern divorce readily available, the Mantokuji Temple now functions as a museum dedicated to the history of divorce.
20. Separation Celebrations
Divorce ceremonies remain quite trendy among the newly unwed. Rituals can be as celebratory and elaborate as the divorcee wants. Sometimes, they can be intimate and involve both partners meeting and coming to peaceful terms with each other. Other times, it can be celebrations of independence, such as one woman who triumphantly threw her wedding ring into the Seine.
19. Mommy Dearest, Or Else
In the town of Wichita, Kansas, being unkind to your partner’s mother-in-law is legal grounds for divorce.
18. Ladies Second
Until 2016, women in Japan had to wait until six months after their divorce to remarry. This was considered unfair by many, since divorced men in Japan faced no such restrictions. The rationale has been that courts (and men) “needed” know whether children born soon after the divorce were the fathered by the previous or the present husband. Things didn’t get too much better in 2016; the new rule states that a woman must wait 100 days, instead of six months.
17. Blowing the Flames of Love
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire… and divorce? Marriages where one partner smokes are 75% more likely to split up than couples where no one does. Weirdly, if both partners are smokers, that rate is only 53%.
16. Mind the Age Gap
At least in heterosexual partnerships, the safer “bet” appears to be pairings where the woman is a few years younger than her hubby. In contrast, couples where the wife is at least 10 years older tend to feel the stigma of the age difference and are more vulnerable to doing the splits.
15. Ladies’ Initiative
On average, women file for divorce more often than men.
14. The Walking & Divorced Dead
In 2007, a man tried to stop his wife’s divorce suit against him by declaring himself dead, and therefore, un-divorceable. You see, he suffered a heart attack in 2004, which stopped his heart and therefore “killed” him. He used this (and another heart attack in 2005) as evidence of “death.” The case was promptly dismissed, of course, but can we harp on the zombie for trying?
13. Mile High, Minute Long
In Japan, a quickie divorce is known as a “Narita divorce.” This colloquialism is named after the famous Narita Airport, where doomed newlyweds are bound to split up once they arrive back from their honeymoon.
12. Love in the Great White North
In Canada, you cannot file for divorce on the grounds of your own adultery; the cheated-on party has to do that. Furthermore, “adultery” in this case constitutes a physical sexual relationship outside the marriage. Ergo, emotional affairs or steamy texts are not admissible as proof of wrongdoing. Sorry, anyone who’s been wronged by dating apps. This is, after all, the country that gave us Ashley Madison.
11. Almost ‘Til Death
After 77 years of marriage, an Italian couple in their late 90s became the oldest divorcees in the world. They had been facing difficulties before, but the rift became official in 2011 after the 99-year-old husband uncovered letters from his 96-year-old wife’s love affair in the 1940s.
10. Bargain Your Way to A Better Marriage?
The more expensive your wedding, the higher your odds are for divorce. Or at least that’s according to statistics from Emory University. The study found that couples whose wedding budgets went over $20,000 were 1.6 times more likely to get divorced than couples whose weddings fell in the $5,000 to $10,000 range.
9. Hidden Treasure
Cheating on a spouse can send you to divorce court, but cheating on your financials once you’re there can put you in a heap of trouble. One woman hid $1.3 million in lottery winnings from her husband and then immediately divorced him. He found out about her stash, and since Family Code law punishes those who lie about property to the court, the wife had to forfeit 100% of her winnings. If the wife had been honest, she probably would’ve only had to surrender half. Take notes here kids: lying doesn’t pay!
8. It’s Complicated
In 2011, a third of all legal proceedings for divorce cases in the US contained the word “Facebook.” Is there a relationship status update for that?
7. Shedding Dead Weight
A whopping 80 to 85% of obese people who met their spouses while obese but then proceed to get weight loss surgery end up dissolving their marriages within two years of the procedure. That implies some hypocrisy we just can’t stomach.
6. Just Happy To Be Out
We’ve all heard gendered stereotypes about divorce: men get “liberated” from the old ball-and-chain, while women retreat to go live with cats. However, the opposite seems to be true. Divorced men are much more likely to experience suicidal depression, whereas divorced women more frequently report increased feelings of happiness and even relief at their newfound singledom.
5. Intolerable Reality
You truly can’t make this up: just days into their marriage, a 38-year-old husband divorced his wife after seeing what she looked like without makeup and declaring himself “deceived.”
4. Three Times You’re Out
The “triple talaq,” otherwise known as the “instant divorce,” allows a Muslim man to divorce his wife through the simple utterance of “talaq” three times in a row. The practice is from the Hanafi Islamic school of law and is upheld in some Muslim countries. It is very controversial, with husbands sometimes dissolving their marriages over text message without warning; this gives wives no chance to arbitrate over the division of property or custody of children. In 2017, India’s Supreme Court officially banned the practice as unconstitutional.
3. The Divorce of Your Dreams
In 2006, a West Bengalese man accidentally divorced his wife in his sleep. In a dreamy stupor, the man muttered “talaq” the required three times as his wife lay right next to him. Although the couple was willing to let this be no big deal, the husband wanted to clear his conscience with some local clerics. Unfortunately, they informed Mr. Sleep Separation that he was, in fact, a divorced man.
2. Caffeine or Bust
Hundreds of years ago, a Turkish wife could legally end her marriage if her husband failed to provide her with enough coffee. Just speaking for myself, but I see nothing unreasonable about that arrangement.
1. A Gentleman’s Goodbye
Annulment is not divorce. Divorce dissolves a marriage, while annulment argues the marriage was never a “valid” marriage in the first place. Thus, the idea that Henry VIII “divorced” any of his wives is a misnomer. He annulled his first and fourth marriages, respectively, to Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves. He also annulled his marriage to Anne Boleyn shortly before he executed her. Jane Seymour died soon after giving birth, and when he executed Catherine Howard for adultery, he didn’t bother getting an annulment, so they both died while still married. Lots of messy details, but no divorces.