Divorce in America


No doubt about it. Nearly every person and family has been touched by divorce. In 1914 the divorce rate in the United States was 1%, or one percent. Divorce was virtually unknown and that is likely why denominations of the day had a firm stand against divorce and not allowing divorced persons to be ordained or to serve on church boards. Essentially, divorce was a non-issue.

In 1981, the divorce rate hit an all-time high in the United States at 53% of all marriages ending in divorce. It is estimated that the divorce rate for 2021 will be 45%. Better than 1981 but still nearly half of all marriages will be wrecked.

Yet, the nation isn’t even close to having the highest divorce rate in the world. Spain, at #5 in the list, has a divorce rate of 63%. The Czech Republic has the #4 spot at 66% with Hungary earning the Bronze Divorce Medal with a 67% rate. Coming in second is Portugal at 68%. The top country for marriage failures? That would be Belgium with a whopping 72% of marriages ending in divorce.

Still, divorce means that dreams have been shattered, hopes dashed, vows made at the wedding broken, children, if any, learning to live with one parent mostly absent, and both spouses being damaged in some way. Because of the dramatic rise in divorce rates over the last century and a quarter, divorced people are generally not shunned or made to feel shame as was once the case.

Churches that once turned away from those who were divorced now find that about half the adults in their congregations are divorced at least once. Many churches now sponsor divorce recovery ministries, and some congregations have special outreach to the children of divorced parents. There are often classes and groups for both “singles,” and for those who are “single again.” “Blended families,” once a rarity, are commonplace. A much greater number of divorced pastors are serving churches than in previous generations. Thankfully, divorce is no longer considered by most to be the unpardonable sin.

But at least, the divorced husband and wife have a second chance at happiness, right? Well, maybe but the statistics are not promising. It’s estimated that 60% of all second marriages end in divorce, while 73% of third marriages will end in divorce. On the other hand, in America, 55% of marriages last, and 40% of second marriages make it with 27% of third marriages experiencing success. So, while there is certainly hope, there’s also the possibility for a great deal of emotional, spiritual, financial, and relational pain.

And that’s the thing — nearly no one involved in a divorce escapes unscathed. Not the principals, the children, the families of the divorcing parties, and not even the friends of the couple involved. Ripples are created that go way past the two people who have divorced.

One woman said this about marriage and divorce: “In a marriage, it’s like two tissues are being glued together. In effect, the two become one tissue. It is possible to separate the two tissues but not without both tissues being ripped and torn.”

Certainly, there are valid reasons why a couple should not remain together. If a spouse is being abused their safety must be considered. If a child is being sexually abused, the child should be moved to safety and the offending parent or stepparent jailed. These aren’t the only valid reasons, but most divorces do not occur because of these issues.

In Spain, the main reason listed for divorce was financial issues. In the Czech Republic, the reason most listed was the “mindset of the other partner,” with financial issues being second. In Portugal, the number one reason was “low tolerance.”

According to an Arizona law firm, “Within the United States, the rate of divorces differs from state to state. However, nearly every state has seen a decrease in divorces over the past decade. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, couples are more likely to get a divorce if they live in Texas, Oklahoma, Nevada, Utah, Arkansas, Kentucky, Alabama, and Mississippi. Couples living in New York, New Jersey, Vermont, Hawaii, and Illinois have the lowest divorce rates in the country.”

Having a religious affiliation decreases the risk of divorce. However, if the husband and wife do not share the same religion or beliefs, the marriage is more likely to fail.

Couples who have sustained a long marriage know that marriage is not easy. All have had their own share of difficulties, disappointments, unmet expectations, and arguments. Their secret? Almost all of those with life-long marriages, somewhere along the way, abandoned divorce as an option. Not that it was never discussed or threatened, but, at some point, the divorce option was taken off the table.

These couples have taken seriously the “for better, for worse,” “for richer, for poorer,” “in sickness and in health,” and their vow to remain married “until by death we do part.” Billy Graham’s wife when she was asked, “Have you ever considered divorce?” reportedly said, “No, never. Homicide, yes, but divorce no.”

In the 1979 edition of the Book of Common Prayer, “… marriage is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately, and in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God.” Marriage is not easy, and it takes determination and a refusal to quit to make it a success. A second or third marriage requires even more determination to make it a success.

Is it worth it in the long run? Without a doubt. But it is a “long run” and not a sprint. Those who count the cost and pay the price have a good chance of going the distance.

[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). During the pandemic, the church is open at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays but is also live streaming at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life) He may contacted at davidepps@ctk.life.]


  1. I have a question. What did you mean when you said, “Churches that once turned away from those who were divorced”? What does “turned away from” mean? Why do you think divorce is so high in churches in America?