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Is divorce contagious?

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The grass is greener

Over the years I’ve come across the suggestion many times that divorce can be ‘contagious’, by which I mean that you are more likely to get divorced if you have a close friend who has already ‘untied the knot’. I suspect that many experienced family lawyers have also come across this idea. But is there any truth in it, and if so what, if anything, is to be done about it?

Obviously, when a person goes through marriage breakdown then their first port of call for someone to discuss it with is likely to be a close friend or relative. And that close friend or relative is going to witness the process from the distress of a broken marriage through, hopefully, to the prospect of a better future. They may see that divorce can lead to an improvement in life.

Also obviously, this may, in turn, lead them to think more deeply about the state of their own marriage. After all, most marriages have their problems. Could their own lives be improved by getting a divorce? Could the grass be greener on the other side of the divorce divide?

Well that, or something like it, is the theory. I am sure that it does happen, and I understand that there have been studies to confirm this, but my feeling is that the incidence of contagious divorce is actually quite small. How many people value their marriage so lightly that they may be tempted to give up on it because they have seen their friend’s happiness increase as a result of divorce? And if they do value their marriage that lightly, then surely it was already a ripe candidate for adding to the divorce statistics?

And anyway there is nothing new or unusual about being led by the experiences of a close friend. They can influence everything from the trivial, such as choices in music and fashion, to the hugely consequential, such as work and relationships.


There can, of course, be a problem, when the choice comes not from within, but from pressure from the friend. And that leads to my first piece of advice: by all means listen to what your friend has to say, but don’t let them push you into a course of action with which you are uncomfortable. It is your marriage and your life, not theirs. Remember, all marriages are different, and what was best for them will not necessarily be best for you.

In fact, I would go one further. If you have a close friend who has recently gone through a divorce, and you are contemplating divorce yourself, then stop and think. Are you, even subconsciously, being influenced by your friend’s experiences? The happiness of your marriage is quite independent of what happened in their marriage and should be ‘judged’ on its own ‘merits’ (if that is the right terminology to use).

A one-way trip

Remember also that divorce is usually a ‘one-way trip’. Yes, divorced couples do occasionally re-tie the knot, but this is quite a rare phenomenon. If you decided that your marriage is over then there is almost certainly no going back. The consequences for you, your spouse and, most importantly, any children are irreversible. Divorce should never be taken lightly, and allowing yourself to be influenced by what happened to someone else could turn out to be the worst decision you ever make, something you could regret for the rest of your life.

OK, enough of the sermon. I am not, of course, a marriage counsellor, even though my experience includes witnessing more divorces than I care to remember. Of course, there are marriage counsellors out there, and the last point I want to make is that if you feel that your marriage is in difficulties, be careful about relying upon the advice of a close friend, no matter how well-intentioned it may be. Instead, seek the assistance of a trained counsellor, such as those working for the relationship support charity Relate.

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If you would like any advice on divorce or other family law issues please do contact our Client Care Team to speak to one of our specialist divorce lawyers here. 

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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