Divorce Statistics In Canada: A Snapshot

Divorce statistics help us understand how marriages-and divorces- have changed over time. What exactly is the divorce rate in Canada, and what does that mean?  Here are some simple facts to understand Canadian divorce statistics:

How Many Marriages End in Divorce?

The answer to this question depends on the timelines for when divorce statistics are collected, and how divorce is actually “measured”.  Generally speaking:

  • Statistics between 2003 and 20011, place a “lifetime risk” of divorcing, before the 30th anniversary, at 38-41% of Canadians.
  • Second marriages are more likely to end in divorce, this can skew overall calculations.  Inclusion of second and third marriages in studies can artificially increase the proportions of people who divorce during their lifetime.
  • There are significant differences in divorce rates between provinces.  Quebec had the highest rate of divorce in 2003 (49.7%), whereas Newfoundland & Labrador had the lowest provincial rate of divorce (17.1%).
  • BC’s divorce rate is approximately 39.8% (Ambert, 2005 from Statistics Canada, 2005 and earlier).
  • The statistics do not necessarily account for couples that separate, but never divorce.
  • Most statistics do not count cohabiting couples who separate, only those who were legally married.
  • Canadian divorce statistics are highly dependent upon Census data, which is collected at a minimum of 5 year intervals.

How Long Do Marriages Last?

It is not always “death ’till us part”.  The length of a marriage can depend on many factors, such as cultural expectations, financial security, family support, and compatibility.

  • The Vanier Institute of the Family (VI, December 2013) state that an estimated 41% of marriages in Canada will end by their 30th wedding anniversary.
  • Statistics Canada describes an average marriage as lasting 13.7 years (2008 Stats Canada Report).
  • Legally speaking, 7 years is considered a long marriage (Michael Butterfield).
  • The length of a marriage has an impact upon the provision of spousal support, particularly when one partner has given up a career to take care of children and/or contributed to a family business.

What Causes Divorce?

There are a variety of factors that contribute to the rise of divorce rates.

  • Marriage has become more of an individual choice, than a religious one, and some believe that this has made it more acceptable for couples to end a marriage than endure until death (Cherlin, 2004).
  • Liberalization of divorce laws in the 1960’s and 1980’s has made it easier to get divorced.  This may have made divorce more socially accepted overall.
  • People may have developed a lower threshold of tolerance when their marriage does not meet their expectations (Amato, 1999).  Thus, they see divorce as a life change that can better support their happiness in the long run.
  • Low incomes, poverty, youthful marriages, and cohabitation are risk factors for divorce.

As a former Divorce Coach, Counsellor, and current Legal Assistant at Butterfield Law, I have noticed several anecdotal trends:

  • Many people marry young, and grow apart.  Sometimes career changes and moving to another city for work triggers a separation.
  • Some partners endure emotional, psychological, physical, or financial abuse for years, and decide to separate their sake and the sake of their children.
  • Some couples stay together for years, but finally decide that they have been unhappy for a long time, and decide that being apart would be the best way to change their lives for the better.
  • More people seem to choose to divorce when it is a financially viable option.  For example, during a booming real estate market, after receiving an inheritance, or when they have built up retirement savings.

Jayne Embree, M.A.

Credits to materials provided by the Justice Institute of BC (FAM 103:  Effects of Separation and Divorce on Adults).

Jayne holds a Masters in Psychology and is a highly experienced Divorce Coach and Child Specialist.  She is currently the Office Manager of Butterfield Law.