European Countries With Highest Rates Of Divorce

By Nathaniel Whelan on August 21 2020 in Society

Image credit:  Daniel Jedzura/Shutterstock.com
Image credit: Daniel Jedzura/Shutterstock.com
  • In 2018, the small Baltic states of Lithuania and Latvia had the highest divorce rates in all Europe at 3.1 divorces per 1,000 inhabitants each.
  • In the mid-1900s, the Nordic countries had shifted to emphasize individual independence even within the family unit, giving way to higher divorce rates.
  • As a result of strict family laws, divorce rates in England and Wales are significantly lower than other European countries.

Couples who meet at the end of the aisle and declare their love for one another rarely think that the end of their journey together may end in divorce, but it is a sad fact that this is the reality for many people today. Europeans are no exception.

In 2017, there were approximately 1.9 million marriages and 0.8 million divorces in the European Union (EU). The former might be higher, but marriage has actually declined in Europe over the years, while divorce rates have more than doubled. What are the reasons for this? Are all divorce rates similar across the EU? This article answers these two questions and much more.

A Short History Of Divorce In Europe

Throughout history, Europe upheld a series of strict laws regulating divorce. Around the 1950s, many countries allowed divorce if one partner had committed an unspeakable act like adultery or domestic abuse. However, the 1970s gave way to what is colloquially known as the “no-fault revolution,” in which divorce was permitted if mutually agreed upon by both partners.  

From then on, numerous reforms related to divorce took place, with some countries even introducing the concept of unilateral divorce which legally granted separation if requested by only one spouse. Many experts agree that these new laws made divorce easier to obtain, ultimately contributing to the rise of divorce rates in Europe.

Reasons For Divorce

Image credit: True Touch Lifestyle/Shutterstock.com

These same experts generally agree that there are numerous reasons for divorce shared by many countries around the world. Some argue that the overall quality and sanctity of marriage has declined, while others insist that our new modern world has provided individuals more opportunities to meet potential partners after having decided to settle down. Victor Martin Organista, an attorney from Madrid, even claims that people grow more mature and independent as they get older and simply decide to follow a different path than their spouse.  

There are, of course, very specific reasons related to each country, particularly in Europe which is a wonderful tapestry of different cultures and people. For example, divorce was illegal in Spain up until 1981, long after the rest of Europe had already progressed well beyond that. Because of these types of reforms, Spain moved away from its Catholic roots to become more secular. Event though Catholicism frowns upon it, this sudden increase in religious freedom made it more acceptable to file for divorce.

Lithuania And Latvia

In 2018, the small Baltic states of Lithuania and Latvia had the highest divorce rates in all Europe at 3.1 per 1,000 inhabitants each. This information comes from Statista, a leading provider of market and consumer data.

Generally speaking, divorce can be a long and complicated process; however, it is fairly easy to obtain in Lithuania and Latvia, particularly if both partners agree to the terms of separation. Instead of taking years, it could realistically take no longer than a month. It is usually cheaper as well as couples can dissolve their marriage out of court through a joint application. Such a simple process explains why these two countries have the most divorces in Europe.

The Nordic Countries

Children are often most adversely impacted as a result of their parents' divorce. Image credit: Rachata Sinthopachakul/Shutterstock.com

According to Statista, the next three places with the highest divorce rates are all Nordic countries: Denmark with 2.6 divorces per 1,000 inhabitants, and Finland and Sweden at 2.5 each.

By the mid-20th century, they were all at the forefront of rethinking behaviors toward the family unit and traditional gender roles, especially in comparison to other European countries such as Spain and Italy which had yet to legalize divorce. Not only was marriage separation the norm in Denmark, Finland, and Sweden, but they also boasted high levels of non-marital cohabitation and childbearing as well.  

In these Nordic countries, society had shifted to emphasize individual independence even within the family structure. Social and economic security came not from each other, but from autonomy and reliance on the welfare state. This liberal mindset came about from the historical absence of serfdom, the emphasis of one’s personal relationship with God, and granting young adults a high degree of freedom.   

England And Wales

According to the Office for National Statistics, divorce rates in England and Wales dropped to its lowest in 2018 since 1971. With 90,871 divorces, it also declined by 10.6 percent since 2017. This, however, does not speak to the overall happiness of its collective marriages.

Under the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1973, anyone looking to divorce their spouse must prove that they are guilty of some unsavory act. This was around the same time when other European countries were going through the “no-fault revolution” mentioned above. Moreover, when there is no evidence against one’s spouse, the applicant must live apart from them for a minimum of five years to give the couple enough time to reconcile. These difficulties and strict laws reveal why divorce rates are so much lower in the UK than other countries like Lithuania and Latvia.

Recently, the British government has promised to introduce a no-fault divorce bill, ultimately making it easier to separate. In June 2020, many MPs personally backed this movement, but as of right now, couples must still abide by the old laws.  

Economics And Social Norms

Image credit: Tero Vesalainen/Shutterstock.com

Generally speaking, divorce is considered more of a social norm in economically developed countries. This is mainly because higher rates of education and the growing number of women in the workforce grant individuals the knowledge, finances, and resources to support themselves through the separation process and post-marriage.

It should be noted, however, that women must often pay a significantly higher price for a successful career. It is still uncommon for men to take on the role of the homemaker to allow their wives to go to work, forcing women to choose between family and their job.

Regardless, experts can often predict a nation’s divorce rate based on the state of their economy.

Europeans Countries With Highest Rates Of Divorce

RankCountryDivorce rates in 2018 (per 1,000 inhabitants)
1Lithuania3.1
1Latvia3.1
3Denmark2.6
4Finland2.5
4Sweden2.5
6Estonia2.4
6Slovakia2.4
6Czechia2.3
9Cyprus2.2
10Portugal2.0
10Belgium2.0
10Spain2.0
10Luxembourg2.0

More in Society