I am sure every divorce lawyer has been there.  A client comes to you to start divorce proceedings.  You will get to talking and the client will tell you – “I spoke with my friend about my decision to divorce…and…well…you’ll be getting another call shortly.”

So you might imagine that it came as no surprise to me when the Journal of Social Forces recently released a study entitled: Breaking Up is Hard to Do, Unless Everyone Else is Doing it Too.

The study centered around its hypothesis that divorce can in fact spread between friends, producing “clusters” of divorcees in some social circles.

Researchers at Brown University, headed by Rose McDermott, Ph.d., examined data on marriage, divorce and remarriage dating back thirty years set from the long-running Framingham, Massachusetts Heart Study. The results were staggering.  Study participants were 75 percent more likely to divorce if a friend divorces – that’s 75 percent!

The study also found that people were 33 percent more likely to get divorced if a friend of a friend divorces.

Splitting house(Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net)

Explaining this phenomenon, Dr. McDermott stated: “The contagion of divorce can spread through a social network like a rumor, affecting friends up to two degrees removed.”  However, the study concluded that the “contagion” does not affect relationships that are three degrees of separation or more removed.

The converse was also true.  Couples that surrounded themselves with friends that stayed married did not divorce as readily.

The takeaway from the study was as follows:

“We suggest that attending to the health of one’s friends’ marriages might serve to support and enhance the durability of one’s own relationship…Although the evidence we present here is limited to a single network…marriages endure within the context of communities of healthy relationships and within the context of social networks that encourage and support such unions.”

The above conclusion seems to have undertones suggesting that getting divorced is always bad whereas staying married is always good.

Yet, it is important to note that other studies have found that retreating from an unhealthy, unhappy union is a positive move, especially where children are caught in the cross-fire of a high conflict marriage.  Perhaps a friend disengaging from an unhealthy marriage can give his or her friend in a bad situation the courage to do so as well.  Perhaps it is that very courage that is contagious, therefore; not divorce itself.

______________________________________________________________________________ Eliana T. Baer is a frequent contributor to the New Jersey Family Legal Blog and a member of the Family Law Practice Group of Fox Rothschild LLP. Eliana practices in Fox Rothschild’s Princeton, New Jersey office and focuses her state-wide practice on representing clients on issues relating to divorce, equitable distribution, support, custody, adoption, domestic violence, premarital agreements and Appellate Practice. You can reach Eliana at (609) 895-3344, or etbaer@foxrothschild.com.

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