Most people enter into marriage with high hopes and the best of intentions. However, the chances of staying together “until death do us part” are no different than calling heads or tails when flipping a coin. Divorce is commonly regarded as one of the most serious stressors a person can experience, ranking right up there with death of a spouse or child. Perhaps because people start off with such high hopes, the dissolution of a marriage can be devastating. The wreckage left behind in the wake of divorce does not just involve husbands and wives, but often children, in-laws (who are often grandparents), mutual friends, family homes, and acrimoniously divided property.
Divorce has received more research attention for its effects on the family system than perhaps any other family stressor. Over the past 50 years, divorce has become increasingly prevalent in American society. Scientists believe that divorce is best understood as a process, not as a discrete event. For some people this process takes years to unfold. For others, the process may consume decades. Because most divorces involve children and extended family, its implications as a stressor are far reaching and often long lasting. Although divorce is ordinarily conceptualized as an “unpredictable” family stressor, as opposed to a normative or developmental family stressor, it turns out that divorce can actually be predicted fairly well from an analysis of married couples' communication behaviors. In addition to being predictable/rom family communication patterns, divorce also has an effect on family communication patterns and relationships. Therefore, it may be most appropriate to think of divorce as a family stressor that is midway between the predictable-unpredictable continuum.
In this chapter we address several fundamental questions about divorce such as “How common is divorce?”, “Who gets divorced?”, and “What are the societal and individual factors that predict divorce?” We then turn our attention to marital interaction and divorce. In particular, what are the communication patterns that suggest a couple is on their way to divorce? Finally, we examine the question of whether and how divorce has an effect on children.
The term demography refers to the statistical study of human population characteristics, particularly as they are influenced by such phenomena as fertility (births), marriages, and mortality (deaths). Before analyzing the relationships between family