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Journal Issue: Children and Divorce Volume 4 Number 1 Spring/Summer 1994

History and Current Status of Divorce in the United States
Frank F. Furstenberg


This article explores the remarkable shift in marriage and divorce practices that has occurred in the last third of this century in the United States. Initially, information is presented on trends in divorce and remarriage; commonalities and differences between family patterns in the United States and in other industrialized nations are discussed. The author then identifies some of the factors that have transformed marriage practices in the United States and describes how changes in these practices have altered the family experiences of children. Finally, the author suggests trends in family patterns that might occur in the near future and discusses various policy initiatives and how they may influence the future of the family. As far back as the nineteenth century, when divorce was still uncommon in the United States, Americans worried about the consequences of marital dissolution for children.1 Then as now, opinion divided between critics of liberalized divorce practices who worried that reform would undermine the capacity of parents to protect and nurture children and reformers who believed that divorce is a necessary mechanism to ensure matrimonial success.2 None of the participants in these debates a century or more ago, however, contemplated an era when divorce would become an intrinsic part of our marriage system or a time when close to half of all those who entered marriage would voluntarily end their unions.