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."
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
The study also found that people were 33 percent more likely to
get divorced if a friend of a friend
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
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
The above conclusion seems to have undertones suggesting that
getting divorced is always bad whereas staying married is always
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.
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Though I could count the instances on one hand, I have had a few
cases in my career where a client had a legitimate concern about
their former spouse or their child's parent attempting to
abduct the child.