Two-thirds of divorces are filed by women

This article was last updated on June 18, 2022

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I ran across the statement that two-thirds of divorces are petitioned by the woman. References pointed to a report from the National Center for Health Statistics (United States) entitled "Advance Report of Final Divorce Statistics" dated May 21/1991. On page 15 of the report, I find table #12 which has data from 1975 to 1988. It shows:
In 1988, on average 61% of the time, the woman was the petitioner. If there were children involved, the stat was 65% and without children it was 56%. It was only around 7% of all cases where the husband and the wife together petitioned for divorce. This means that 93% of the time, it was only one spouse who petitioned for divorce. The table, dating from 1975 to 1988, consistently shows that women petitioned for divorce twice as much as men.

In the United Kingdom, Grant Thorton surveyed matrimonial lawyers in 2004 and concluded that 93% of divorce cases were petitioned by wives. (Wikipedia: Divorce: Causes of divorce) The BBC echoed this percentage in their article of January 23, 2005.

In the New York Times article of July 11, 2000 "The Big City; A New Look At Realities Of Divorce", the reporter John Tierney writes:

Which sex is mostly to blame for divorce? … Conservative preachers and liberal feminists… journalists (including this one) and politicians of all persuasions have righteously condemned ”deadbeat dads.” … But there’s a problem with the conventional wisdom. Across America, at least two-thirds of divorce suits are filed by women… in cases where the divorce is not mutually desired, women are more than twice as likely to be the ones who want out. After the split, women are typically happier than their exes.

In the 2009 article "Men After Divorce: In Touch With Feelings" by Bill Ritter (ABC News), the author writes:

It’s the typical Hollywood view of men and divorce: The guy trades in the old wife for a new, younger model and a really cool life in the fast lane. We know the stereotype, and it’s what a lot of men and women think actually happens. But we went in search of the truth, and found that it’s not even close to the myth. Here’s a painful sampling of the eight divorced men we brought together:

"I was so lost in myself after divorce, I didn’t know who the hell I was," said John Heany, a salesman from St. Louis.

"I was terrified of it. I was terrified of being alone actually," offered Scott Bolden, a Washington lawyer.

"It was a death of dreams … a death of hopes and wishes," moaned Joe Thompson, a twice-divorced banker.

The myth is so easily shattered. For starters, it’s not usually the men who leave the women — and certainly not the movie-version of the guy leaving for a prettier and younger female. Instead, statistics show that in two-thirds of all American divorces, it’s the women who file for divorce. And while men usually fare better financially than women in a divorce, experts say it’s the men who are much more likely to come unglued emotionally — seriously unglued.

The truth is that men don’t do well alone. Some statistics show divorced men are eight times more likely than divorced women to commit suicide. And men without wives are twice as likely to suffer depression and heart attacks.

Marriage Builders: Dr. Willard Harley
Willard F. Harley, Jr., Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and marriage counsellor. He and his wife Joyce host a radio show on the USA Radio Network called Marriage Builders presenting the latest research, trends, and issues on marriage.

On his web site Marriage Builders, in an article entitled "Why Women Leave Men", he writes:

Women tend to be more concerned about their marriages than men. They buy most of the books on marriage to try to improve them and initiate most marriage counselling. They often complain about their marriages to their closest friends and sometimes to anyone who will listen. And they also file for divorce twice as often as men.

Why do women seem so dissatisfied with marriage? What do they want from their husbands? What bothers them so much about marriage that most are willing to risk their families’ future to escape it?

Why do women leave men?

Dr. Harley points out that many of the reasons like physical abuse, infidelity, alcoholism, criminal behaviour, fraud, or other serious grounds are down the list. The number one reason for a woman filing for divorce is neglect.

The most common reason women give for leaving their husbands is "mental cruelty." When legal grounds for divorce are stated, about half report they have been emotionally abused. But the mental cruelty they describe is rarely the result of their husband’s efforts to drive them crazy. It is usually husbands being indifferent, failing to communicate and demonstrating other forms of neglect.

Final Word
What are women recognizing twice as much as men? Men may be unaware that they are neglecting their wife? Seems like an old joke. Which is worse: ignorance or apathy? I don’t know and I don’t care.

I have a very strong feeling that the opposite of love is not hate — it’s apathy. It’s not giving a damn.
– Leo Buscaglia

Women twice as much as men. Indifference. Apathy. Neglect. Mental cruelty. Happier after divorce. At one point, we get married with all the hope and joy that goes along with it. What happens? We just stop caring? Have we forgotten all the reasons that brought us together in the first place?

In my blog Relationships: The power of touch, I end with some questions:

Can the simple act of physically touching evoke intimacy? Can it keep us together? Argue but hold hands. Debate but keep touching. Fight but remain in contact. Break the physical bond and you risk breaking the emotional bond?


National Center for Health Statistics – May 21/1991
Advance Report of Final Divorce Statistics
p. 4: text on petitioners
p. 15: Table 12: stats based on petitioner

The New York Times – July 11, 2000
The Big City; A New Look At Realities Of Divorce by John Tierney
two-thirds of divorce suits are filed by women… This trend has inspired what is probably the first paper in the American Journal of Law and Economics ever to be named after a Nancy Sinatra song. In ”These Boots Are Made for Walking: Why Most Divorce Filers Are Women,” Margaret F. Brinig and Douglas Allen, both economists, analyze all 46,000 divorces filed in one year, 1995, in four different states: Connecticut, Virginia, Montana and Oregon.

American Law and Economics Review, Vol. 2, pp. 126-169, 2000
These Boots Are Made for Walking: Why Most Divorce Filers Are Women
Margaret F. Brinig, Notre Dame Law School
Douglas W. Allen, Simon Fraser University

ABC News – March 13, 2009
Men After Divorce: In Touch With Feelings By Bill Ritter

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I never believed in divorce (until I met my husband)

I never believed in divorce (until I got married)

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