Women Initiate Most Divorces

Back in the bad old days of fault-only divorce, when state legislatures incubated what became known as no-fault, some social conservatives objected to no-fault divorce because they said it would give men a free pass to escape marriage. It didn’t turn out that way.

Today, women initiate two-thirds of all divorces. According to sources, “some of the reasons for this may be women’s tendency to monitor the marriage relationship more closely than their husbands, and the likelihood that men are involved in problematic behaviors such as drinking.”

In their 2000 study, These Boots Are Made For Walking: Why Most Divorce Filers Are Women, two law professors, Margaret Brinig from Notre Dame University and Douglas Allen from Iowa, studied 46,000 divorce cases filed in four states—Connecticut, Virginia, Montana and Oregon—to find out why women file for divorce. The study concluded that women are 66 percent more likely to file for a divorce than men; however, the reasons why has proven unexpected.

Brinig and Allen say woman file because they are confident they will prevail in custody questions. Statistically, Brinig says, women who filed for divorce most often felt confident they would receive advantageous custody agreements. “The question of custody absolutely swamps all the other variables,” Brinig said. “Our study found that children are the most important asset in a marriage and the partner who expects to get custody is by far the one most likely to file for divorce.” Brinig adds that not only are women certain they will get custody, they divorce specifically in order to “gain full control over the children.”

Many of the other assumptions about why woman initiate divorce proved wrong.

Contrary to expectations, divorcing to escape domestic violence was not prevalent, according to Brinig and Allen. In Virginia, for example, only 6 percent of the divorce cases showed violence as a cause for the divorce.

Brinig and Allen found that adultery on the part of the husband was also not a major cause of divorces filed by wives against husbands, nor was infidelity on the part of the wife.

While the wives’ feelings of being “too good” for their less financially or socially successful husbands (”I’m tired of him living off my back financially”) was cited in 20 percent of the divorce cases studied, Brinig and Allen found that even this reason–did not account for a significant majority.

In this age of women’s independence, divorce often is an escape for women who simply do not want to be married anymore. Some women just don’t feel they need marriage any longer to feel complete or be successful, according to author and researcher Ashton Applewhite in his book Cutting Loose: Why Women Who End Their Marriages Do So.

Women today often decide to divorce their husbands because they have simply outgrown them, according to author Carol Ann Wilson in her book “ABCs of Divorce for Women.” Wilson, a professional counselor for women in financial issues, says that many more women are simply realizing that they have new career and personal growth opportunities. Wilson says that wives who married young especially develop new perspectives over the years, perspectives that outdistance their husbands’ ability to keep pace.

Back in the 1960s, when pressure was building for divorce laws, many argued that liberalized divorce would be a free pass for man to walk out on marriage, but it turns out, the women do the walking.


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