Remarriage is an increasingly widespread phenomenon in contemporary society due to the liberalization of divorce and changing gender roles. According to figures published by the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2004 the number of men who had married twice stood at 12 percent, while the same number for women was 13 percent. The data also shows that 58 percent of women and 54 percent of men had married only once.
Figures from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) in the United States from 2002 reveal that that 54 percent of divorced women tend to remarry within five years, with this percentage reaching 75 percent for the 10-year period after the divorce. Meanwhile, statistics about the duration of second marriages indicate that 15 percent of second marriages are terminated after three years, with nearly 25 percent ending after 5 years.
The percentage of divorce and remarriage remains fairly low in other conservative countries where religious institutions play a strong role in society. Remarriage is not possible in some situations as not all authorities allow divorce. In Europe the process of liberalization of divorce was gradual in the 20th century and the more recent countries to allow divorce on the continent include Italy, Spain, Portugal and the Republic of Ireland. In 2011, a non-binding referendum in Malta approved the liberalization of divorce but the Vatican still forbids it entirely.
The church has strong views about the preservation of marriage, seeing this union as a sacred institution. The Roman Catholic Church has strict rules about the annulment of church marriage. According to theologians, the Bible permits divorce only in the case of unfaithfulness. However, in contemporary society most annulments are based on psychological reasons. The refusal or inability to consummate the marriage also provides sufficient grounds for annulment. Other eligible situations include bigamy, incest, mental incapacity and lack of understanding of the implications of the marital commitment.
Protestantism has more relaxed rules for divorce and remarriage. According to a popular interpretation of historical events, on failing to obtain annulment of his marriage England's King Henry VIII (1491-1547) decided to separate the Church of England from the Catholic Church in 1534, turning it into a Reformist church. Henry VIII is also famous for his six marriages, two of which were annulled. In one of his marriages, to Anne of Cleves, Henry obtained a divorce. The Church of England now accepts remarriage in the case of the death of a spouse. In 2002, the General Synod of the Church of England approved by an overwhelming majority the remarriage of divorcees. In its statement the church accepted that "in exceptional circumstances, a divorced person may marry again in church during the lifetime of a former spouse."
Different groups of Judaism hold several views on divorce and remarriage. Orthodox Jews are allowed to get divorced if the husband gives his wife a divorce document, which is referred to as a ‘get' – which states "You are hereby permitted to all men." In the case of a spouse's death, Judaism encourages remarriage, declaring that it is "better to remain coupled than a widow." Jewish scriptures oblige the brother of the deceased man to marry his wife. The brother can be exempt from this obligation if the deceased husband did not have children. In this case, known as ‘Halizah' - the wife is free to marry somebody outside the family.
In terms of divorce and remarriage in Islam, the holy book of the Muslim religion - the Qur'an- forbids a divorced couple to remarry each other again until the wife marries another man, consummates the marriage and receives divorce (Sura 2:228-232). The divorce is a three-month process, which requires a threefold pronouncement of the divorce. Hinduism imposes even stricter rules for remarriage and does not encourage second marriages, in particular for women. The so-called ‘punarbhu' are entitled to remarriage. These women include three groups: virgin widows; women who leave their husband and later return to him; and women who do not have brothers-in-law to take care of their children. Statistics from the 1990s show that widows in India amount to over 33 million, or 8 percent of the population. Due to the specific customs, these women are marginalized from the life of the community.