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Gallup poll shows increase in U.S. acceptance of divorce

Moral acceptability of divorce is the norm.

In July 2017, Gallup released its May 2017 yearly Values and Beliefs poll that asked about the moral acceptability of divorce to Americans. Its conclusion is that almost three-quarters of U.S. adults feel that divorce is "morally acceptable," even though the divorce rate has fallen.

Specifically, Gallup reports that moral acceptance of divorce has increased by 14 percentage points since 2001. Contrast this with a 1954 poll in which only slightly more than half of polled Americans "said they 'believe' in divorce."

No-fault divorce

In a reflection of changing beliefs, every state, including Utah, now allows no-fault divorce, meaning neither party must prove that the other was at legal fault in the marriage. Rather, in a no-fault divorce, the only requirement is that the marital relationship has irretrievably broken down. In Utah, which offers both fault-based and no-fault divorces, no-fault divorce means the couple has "irreconcilable differences."

As divorce has become more widely accepted, the divorce rate has fallen from higher levels in the 80s and 90s. Gallup cites Bowling Green State University and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC, respectively, as saying the divorce rate is at a "35-year low" and at a "multidecade low."

Perhaps not surprisingly, those that consider themselves "very religious" have the lowest acceptance rate of divorce with only 51 percent saying it is morally acceptable.

Evolving attitudes

Gallup speculates that the rise in acceptance of divorce is related to changing attitudes toward marriage itself, noting that:

  • Marriage rates have dropped
  • Young adults are putting off marrying
  • Cohabitation as an alternative is on the rise
  • Fewer people think it is important to be married to have a child or to live together

In conclusion, Gallup suggests that perhaps divorce is becoming more a "legal or formal" process, rather than something that deserves moral judgment. Indeed, it is interesting to see the ways in which divorce laws represent the intersection of moral judgment and legal process.

In Utah law, for example:

  • As discussed above, divorce may, but does not require, marital fault like adultery, desertion, cruelty and other similar grounds.
  • The court may consider the "fault" of a party in deciding whether to grant alimony and the terms of that award, defining fault as adultery, physical family abuse, causing family members to fear for their lives or "substantially undermining the financial stability of the other party or the minor children."

No matter what the family circumstances are, anyone facing divorce should find a lawyer to answer questions and evaluate the situation in light of the law without judgment and as a client advocate.

Gregory W. Stevens, Attorney at Law, in Salt Lake City represents clients in the Wasatch Front in divorce and other family law matters.

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