Call us: Mon - Fri 8:30am - 7pm, Sat - Sun 9am - 5pm
Call local rate 0330 056 3171
Mon - Fri 8:30am - 7pm | Sat - Sun 9am - 5pm
Call local rate 0330 056 3171
Mon - Fri 8:30am - 7pm | Sat - Sun 9am - 5pm

Is divorce catching?

Is divorce catching? That might seem like a ridiculous question, but there is more evidence for the idea than you might think. In a recent study, researchers at the prestigious Brown University on Rhode Island came to this very conclusion after analysing thirty years of marriage data collected from the inhabitants of Framingham, a town in Massachusetts.

The data suggests, they claim, that having a divorced friend increases your own chance of divorce by a rather startling 75 per cent. Even knowing someone who has been divorced will increase your own chances of divorce by as much as a third.

Meanwhile, it seems, children discourage divorce. A couple is less likely to be influenced by divorce amongst friends and acquaintances the more children they have.

The researchers write:

“Divorce represents the dissolution of a social tie, but it is also possible that attitudes about divorce flow across social ties…The results suggest that divorce can spread between friends.”

It is not difficult to see what might be happening here. Marriage is a very public commitment. We meet up with friends and family on our big day to declare our choice of partner and the apparent permanence of the relationship. Of course, everyone at the wedding, including the bride and groom, know full well that the union is subject to later revision. But still, it is difficult to admit you were wrong, difficult to announce to the world that your marriage has failed – whether it has collapsed because your partner ran off with someone else or because you both simply fell out of love with each other. It is a huge upheaval and can be both heartbreaking and expensive.

If you are not already boiling over with adrenalin or indignation, taking that first step – picking up the phone to call your solicitor or simply breaking the news to your spouse – can take real courage. Watching friends split or even hearing about acquaintances who have gone their separate ways may be a valuable validation of the thoughts going through your own mind. “If they can do it, so can I”. Taking that first step doesn’t seem quite so daunting when you know people who have already taken it.

Many a divorced person will admit they were influenced by friends, and ‘contagious’ divorce is certainly something I have observed amongst my own clients. But it is a surprise to see in the facts and figures of this extensive study just how pronounced the effect seems to be.

Intriguingly, the researchers conclude that “attending to the health of one’s friends’ marriages may serve to support and enhance the durability of one’s own relationship” – in other words, helping your friends overcome marital difficulties might make it easier to overcome problems in your own relationship. Doing so is effectively setting yourself a good example.

For the Brown University researchers, divorce is not just a personal event, but also “a collective phenomenon that extends beyond those directly affected.”

Food for thought!

Photo by Seth Reineke via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

Contact us

As the UK's largest family law firm we understand that every case is personal.


  1. Tulsa Divorce Lawyer Matt Ingham says:

    I agree with this study 100%…divorce is contagious.

  2. Stitchedup says:

    “I agree with this study 100%…divorce is contagious.” –

    Spot on Matt, but not just divorce, don’t forget the cohabiting. There was a massive change in my ex when she rekindled friendships with a group of women should had fallen out with many years ago, around the time we got together.

    Most had divorced or separated from long term partners and made a big thing of telling me ex how much happier they were now. However, most can be seen trawling the pubs, wine bars and advertising themselves as “looking for a relationship” on sites like “Plenty of fish”. Yes, clearly so much happier!!

    • Marilyn Stowe says:

      Dear Stitchedup
      I think by now every reader of the blog will be aware of your views. I will continue to publish those which make a valid contribution to the discussion on this blog but I will not publish content which is abusive of leading figures in the family law field whom I happen to greatly respect and admire and of family law itself. This blog is not designed to be a place to rant. I have let you have enough leeway but enough is enough.

  3. JamesB says:

    I dont think divorce is contagious. the good friends i have remained married when i no longer was , and good friends. i did find people will listen to those who’s views are the same as their own and vice versa. that last sentence was on stitchedups post on here and I liked. he should read kathy lette, v funny, like how she said the women all slag of their husbands until you ask them if you could sleep with him or go on a date with him. A feminist I like. mad cows and foetal attraction, both excellent books.

  4. JamesB says:

    p.s. noone would have dared say this to Henry VIII!!!

    Also divorce is the basis of Church of England. Just dont like the thought of this saying catching on and making divorcees outcasts. Also think PM would be better with more life experience and perhaps should not be a barrier to future life as makes you learn a lot about people. Also the csa and punitive laws against divorced dads are tricky anyway without this saying as well.

  5. Stitchedup says:

    I would hardly describe my comment above as a rant; it is reasonably short, to the point, and on topic with regards to the article posted.

    So the definition of abuse now includes passing the opinion that a letter or speech includes “flowery language” or “grandiloquence”?? Really??

    The law is constantly changing, the law today may not be the law tof omorrow. I believe in one of your articles it was Munby himself that approved of people voicing dissent of family law and indeed highlighted its fallibility. He has also spoken of the need to “jettison” aspects of family law that are now out of date.

    What’s that saying …. something to do with the morals of a common man????

  6. Andrew says:

    Well, it seems to happen to two people at a time . . .

  7. Luke says:

    My vicarious experience is that most marriages of some duration are not very happy, but trying to disentangle oneself from it is very difficult – so seeing somebody else you know well do it successfully is very likely in my opinion to galvanise a person into action.

  8. JamesB says:

    A good friend of mine said my divorce made him stay married. Not sure what to think of that.

    • Marilyn Stowe says:

      Dear James
      Might be true, marriages go through ups and downs but a marriages that’s over, is over.

  9. Andrew says:

    No, JamesB, the C of E was founded on a nullity, not a divorce. To this day many C of E clerics will not marry a divorced couple if the ex is living; that is why the Heir to the throne remarried before the Registrar – his ex was dead but not his second wife’s – and his sister in Scotland where the Kirk takes a different view.

  10. JamesB says:

    Andrew, Until the 16th century CE, the Church in England recognised the Pope’s authority. However, when Catherine of Aragon failed to produce a male heir for Henry VIII, and was considered too old to give birth to any more children, Henry wanted to divorce her. The Pope refused permission and so the only way for Henry to get what he wanted was to break away from the Vatican and make divorce legal. The Archbishop of Canterbury granted Henry a divorce in 1533 (under pressure) and Henry made himself head of the Church of England.

  11. Andrew says:

    No, James, he did not want a divorce, he wanted the marriage annulled, declared null and void, and when the Catholic Church could not help him (because Spanish forces had sacked Rome and were in occupation) he asked for and got an Act of Parliament to end appeals out of the Kingdom in ecclesiastical causes and the Catholic Church in England then annulled the marriage.

  12. JamesB says:

    The pope refused so he broke away. In that we agree. Wrt if it was nullified or not, the catholic church regarded the marriage as valid.

  13. JamesB says:

    I also think the church divorced them rather than nullified the marriage. Although it doesn’t really matter either way as the link to Rome was severed at that time as the Pope did not agree to a separation or remarriage at the time.

    I a not going down the road of slagging off the c of e. My wife is catholic. I am protestant. I am not catholic. I do not like the way the c of e or catholic churchs are currently. I go to both each year. I will continue to go where I feel more confident. Currently that is protestant high church. I do think there will be a split though and I may have to consider

  14. JamesB says:

    If there is not a split I may become catholic. I do not agree to female or gay vicars or bishops. Although I am ok with gay weddings.

  15. JamesB says:

    Andrew, you are saying that Henry the eighth only had five wives and that the twenty four years that they were married don’t count. That is re-writing history (a subject of mine) and not right.

  16. JamesB says:

    Have a read through this please.

    Yes, the c of e was founded on adultery and divorce.

  17. Andrew says:

    If you get your information from the BBC, James, you have to accept vague language. He and Catherine and the Church all called it nullity; I dare say people called it a divorce loosely then as the do now. It would have been no use asking for a divorce – the Catholic Church does not do divorce, only annulment.

    In English law a voidable marriage is valid unless and until it is annulled, so no, I am not saying the marriage to Catherine never happened. It did; as did the all the subsequent marriages. That to Anne Boleyn was annulled (before her career was as it were cut short); however you cut the mustard the marriage to Jane Seymour was valid because Catherine and Anne were dead. The marriage to Anne of Cleves ended in an annulment, not a divorce; I am not sure whether the marriage to Katherine Howard was annulled or whether Henry waited to be widowed again.

    The Irish have a verse about the (formerly established) Church of Ireland which can be translated into English and
    keep its rhyme and scansion:

    Don’t speak of the alien Minister
    Or his church without meaning or faith:
    The foundation stones of his temple
    Were the b*llocks of Henry the Eighth.

  18. JamesB says:

    Well, I like the rhyme.

    Arguing between a divorce or an annulment, well, I call it tomato (divorce), you can call it tomato (annulment).

    The grounds were something like because he married his dead brother’s wife. I don’t think they are grounds for annulment in the bible and neither did the pope.

    The church without meaning or faith…

    Sadly it is getting close to that, at which point I am off. Perhaps I will be joining the black churches – I mean, if they can make singers like Whitney Houston they can’t be all bad.

    I don’t think the catholics have got a good press or reputation in recent years either. Scientology looks like a non starter also. I am on the look out as I say for a church with meaning and fiath, currently the closest to it I believe is C of E. I do follow Jesus though and think he would have made a good C of E minister. I do not think he approves of female bishops or gay vicars though.

    Interesting subject, thanks for the debate.

  19. JamesB says:

    I do think (know) that there does remain some protestants in Southern Ireland in the church which you say no longer exists though. I think it does still exist. Although I admit is not as big as it was. I think the Duke of Wellington was a member.

  20. JamesB says:

    by Southern Ireland, I mean the republic of Ireland, as I know someone (a protestant) like that who lives in the republic in the most Northerly part of the island of Ireland and I think you prefer me being specific.

  21. Andrew says:

    The Church of Ireland does indeed still exist – the point is that it is no longer the Established Church. It was disestablished in 1869 by Act of Parliament.

    I think we have outlived our usefulness on this one. Goodnight to you, James, and thank you Marilyn for being so hospitable to us both!

Leave a comment

Help & advice categories


Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up for advice on divorce and relationships from our lawyers, divorce coaches and relationship experts.

What type of information are you looking for?

Privacy Policy