The annulment of a valid marriage may be for reasons other than the death of a spouse. While divorce is legal in many countries it is illegal in others, particularly as a result of religious doctrine, which may mean that a divorced person is denied rights within that religion and his or her children by another marriage may be regarded as illegitimate. Alimony or maintenance for women and children resulting from divorce may be insufficient or may impoverish the husband. Marital property may be unequally divided in divorce. The question of the custody of children may cause much bitterness with adverse effects on the children, or it may impose a heavy burden on one parent. Divorcees may find that they are discriminated against by society. If divorce proceedings are lengthy, the cost may be very high.
In the developed countries of Europe, North America, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the USSR, divorce is a clear concept and the increase in its frequency is unquestionable; this has, in fact, been taking place since the beginning of the century. At present, in these regions, between one marriage out of two and one marriage out of four ends in divorce. Many young couples separate after having established a common household for several years, and for the individuals concerned there is not much difference between such separation and a legally sanctioned divorce. It is likely, therefore, that more than half of the men and women who are presently living together will not maintain this union through their lives.
Divorces occur mainly at an early age. In the USA, for example, 52% of all divorces take place before the sixth year and 67% before the tenth year of the marriage; 45% of the couples who divorce have no children and 25% have one child. In the UK divorces increased from 25,000 in 1961 to 153,386 in 1990, with nearly 50% of marriages ending in divorce in 1991. Approximately 30% of marriages end in divorce in Germany, making some 130,000 divorces per year, of which 60% were initiated by women. However, throughout the industrialized world, the number of dependent children who face divorce between their parents is large and continues to grow. These children generally stay with their mother, although an aspect of new divorce laws providing for greater equality between men and women is that men are less systematically considered as unable to provide homes for their children.
In Africa and Latin America, where marriage is early and universal but where the consensual and customary types are prevalent and also where, in Africa, polygamy is still frequent though declining, data on divorce rates are scanty and in many cases concern a fraction of the population only. The information provided in the context of the World Fertility Survey show that in five countries of Latin America, the proportion of first marriages dissolved by separation varies between 20 and 80%. A high marital instability is also reported in the urban areas of African countries, where sometimes a quarter of all women marry more than once.
Data from the World Fertility Survey also indicate that in Asia, the proportion of women whose first marriage or union is dissolved by separation or divorce amounts to 36% in Indonesia, 21% in Bangladesh and 18% in Thailand. In other Asian countries, a greater proportion of marriages are terminated by widowhood.
While divorce is likely to always be a part of society, it has a number of consequences. Children of divorced parents are not educated as well as their parents. Children and women of divorces are generally poorer. Each of the participants in a divorce is frequently emotionally hurt by the process. The violence inherent in a divorce causes profound spiritual scars and social difficulties for all involved.