Divorce changing in the 21st century

The stereotypical image of the American family consisting of a mother, father and two children has not reflected the actual experience of many for a number of years. As time passes, family structures continue to evolve. As the 21st century gets underway, some noticeable trends in divorce have become apparent.

Divorce rates declining

Contrary to what many believe, divorce rates are falling in the U.S. While U.S. Census Bureau data shows that divorce rates still hover around 45 percent, the number of divorces has actually decreased since 1981. Census data also shows that the number of marriages has also decreased since 1981, so with fewer marriages comes fewer divorces. Experts believe that marriage rates have fallen as society has become more accepting of people in living together and raising children together outside of marriage. Another factor many believe contributes to the falling number of marriages is that women are in the workforce and financially independent. Women no longer see marriage as the only way to financial security.

Some believe that not getting married means that they can avoid a lot of legal hassles if the relationship ends. However, those who have children together outside of marriage still may need the services of a family law attorney, even if it is not for divorce. Parents may split up and need to arrange parenting plans and child support issues.

More people divorcing later

Although the overall divorce rate in the U.S. has fallen, divorce has risen in one demographic: those over 50 years old. The National Center for Family and Marriage Research reported that "gray divorce," divorce among those over 50 years old, doubled between 1990 and 2010. Divorcing later in life presents financial challenges that are not often present when couples divorce earlier. Property division can be more complicated, as couples try to divide retirement accounts and pensions, as well as try to determine eligibility for Social Security or military retirement benefits.

Divorce rates vary with circumstances

A number of factors seem to correspond with divorce rates. Census Bureau data shows that divorce rates are higher on the West Coast than the central U.S. and the East Coast. Those who marry after they are 30 years old are 24 percent less likely to divorce than those who marry before they are 18 years old, according to Forbes Magazine. Forbes also reports that those who have children before marriage are also 24 percent more likely to divorce than those who have children after marriage. Having a college education decreases the likelihood of divorce by 25, as well.

Data about trends in divorce can give a snapshot about the state of marriage in general for the entire country, but not everyone's experiences correspond to trends. Each person's unique circumstances play a factor in divorce. Those considering divorce should speak with an experienced divorce attorney who can give them individualized legal guidance about their options.