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Over 50% of marriages in Spain end in separation

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According to the latest report 'Divorce in Spain', prepared by the CEU Demographic Observatory, affiliated to the Center for Studies, Training, and Social Analysis (CEU-CEFAS), just over 50% of marriages end in separation in Spain. The ratio between marital breakups (divorces + separations + annulments) and weddings has exceeded 60% in Spain in 13 of the last 18 years, with an extraordinary maximum of 88.6% in 2020, due to the vertiginous drop in weddings in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the report notes, the trend in recent years has stabilised, possibly due to the drop in the total number of married couples caused by low marriage rates. In 2022, the indicator of "marital fragility" (number of divorces per hundred weddings) was 47.3%, the lowest in over 20 years, although that minimum should be attributed to the anomaly in weddings and divorces from 2020 to 2022 linked to the pandemic.

The rate of family breakdown in marriages of people of childbearing and child-rearing ages, where divorce causes more social harm, is very worrying. A third separate before 20 years of marriage; one in five in the first ten years, and one in eight in the first seven years. The age range most likely to divorce is from 40 to 49 years old, in both sexes (around 40% of all divorces), followed by the age range of 50 to 59 years old. In 2022, 42.2% of men and 33.2% of women were 50 years old or older at the time of divorce. In women, the segment under 40 years of age on average accounted for 33.1% of divorces in the period 2013-2021, a rate that decreased to 26.1% in 2022.


A serious social problem with economic, emotional, and educational impacts

Family breakdown due to high divorce rates causes economic impoverishment, emotional and educational harm to children, and numerous changes in residence from the mother's to the father's home and vice versa. If a couple with dependent children separates, these children will experience material impoverishment (their parents now need two households and thereby duplicate the associated expenses) as well as emotional and educational harm. According to official US data, divorce significantly increases the risk of children and adolescents needing medical treatment for mental or emotional health problems. Likewise, divorce causes much suffering to affected adults, especially to the spouse who does not desire the divorce, if there is one, like many parents, generally men, who see their children much less after the separation. At least 1.5 million divorced or separated individuals in Spain since 1981 did not want the marital breakup, carried out solely at the desire of the other spouse.

In the last 15 years, and especially in the last decade, joint custody of children after divorce is increasing rapidly and is on track to become the majority option. It has gone from occurring in around 10% of divorces with children in 2008 to 43% in 2021.

The length of the legal divorce process depends mainly on whether there is mutual agreement between the spouses or if there is a contentious process. In the former case, the divorce, in the period 2015-2019, was settled in less than three months in 66% of cases, 88% in less than 5 months, and 97% in less than 11. In contested divorces, things were much slower: 5% in less than 3 months, 31% in less than 5 months, 74% in less than 11. In 26% of cases, more than 11 months were needed, something that only occurred in 3% of mutual agreement cases.

In the period 2013-2022, in 75% of divorces, the demand was resolved by mutual agreement. In contested cases (more than 200,000 in that period), women filed for divorce in twice as many cases as men. Only in 1% of contested divorces did both spouses apply for divorce with the corresponding demand.


Single-parent households and children living without a parent

As a result of the high rate of marriage and domestic partnership breakdowns, low marriage rates, and the increasing number of babies without a known father, single parenthood in Spain represents a significant and growing percentage of households with children and dependent children. In 2001, single-parent households accounted for 12.5% of all households with children under 25 years old. In 2011, they were 17.4%. In 2020, it was 20.1%. Around 1.5 million people under 25 years old live in these households, in 80% of cases with their mother.

The 2022 analysis of birth rate microdata from the National Statistics Institute (INE) determined that more than 10% of babies born in Spain will not live with their father from birth, either because there is no father listed, or if there is, he lives in a different municipality or province than the mother when their child is born. In many cases, this is due to a breakup between conception and birth.

Family breakdown is very costly, starting with the need for more housing for the same population

As a result of this family breakdown, about three million more homes are needed than what would be necessary with family patterns from 50 years ago. In 1970, there were about 19 million adults emancipated from their parents' home in Spain, who lived in 8.9 million family homes (the vast majority with children)—that is, 2.15 emancipated adults per household on average. They lived with an additional 14.7 million people, the vast majority of them dependent minors (12.7 million of them were under 21 years old). At the beginning of 2021, with a mean age of emancipation for Spaniards of 30 years (5 years older than in 1970), about 33 million emancipated adults lived in 18.5 million homes, with an average of 1.78 per household. They lived with 14 million people, of whom about 9.6 million were under 21 years old. With the average number of emancipated adults per household from 1970, 15 million homes would have been needed in 2021, not 18.2 million.

Palabras clave Demographic Observatory Divorces Separations Destructuring Family