National Post

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

Joint custody on the rise in divorce settlements, Statistics Canada finds

Marriages most likely to fall apart after four years

Joseph Brean
National Post

Divorcing parents settle disputes over their children with shared custody arrangements more than a third of the time now, capping a rise from single digits when the Divorce Act came into force in 1986, Statistics Canada said yesterday.

National divorce figures from 2000, released yesterday, show that 37.2% of custody battles are settled with joint custody, 53.5% with custody awarded to the mother, and 9.1% with custody going to the father.

The figures are based on an analysis of 71,144 divorces in 2000.

In 1986, the year following major amendments to the Divorce Act, mothers won custody more than three-quarters of the time and fathers 15% of the time, with joint custody and other arrangements making up the remaining 10%.

"Family law has been changing. Now the kids also have their own lawyers in court and the lawyers are going to decide what is best for the kids, rather than two parents fighting against each other without the kid being represented," said Edward Ebanks, a population studies expert and professor of sociology at the University of Western Ontario.

Canada's Divorce Act says that, in determining custody, the child's best interests should be the prime consideration for the court and that "a child of the marriage should have as much contact with each spouse as is consistent with the best interests of the child."

"Kids are always hard on a new relationship. If a couple have a child, or they got married because they were pregnant, that is something that could increase the risk of early divorce," Prof. Ebanks said. "The longer they live together before they have a child, that can bring the rate down."

The figures also describe a four-year window critical to the long-term success of a marriage.

Although divorce in the first year of marriage is almost unheard of (at less than one in 1,000 marriages) and remains very low through the second year, divorce rates climb sharply over the next two years to peak in the year after the fourth anniversary. About one in 20 marriages are terminated in this fifth year, the figures show.

"It gradually tails off after that," said Patricia Tully, a senior analyst at Statistics Canada, who said the figure after 10 years is about 16.6 divorces per 1,000 marriages and 9.4 after 20 years.

In all, 37.7% of marriages registered in 2000 are expected to end in divorce by the 30th wedding anniversary, well below the peak of 50.6% in 1987.

The biggest increases in divorce rates were in Alberta and Nova Scotia, at 3.1% and 5.1%, respectively, while Prince Edward Island and Manitoba saw drops of 6.5% and 5.5%, respectively, from 1999 to 2000.

The total divorce rate by the 30th anniversary was highest in Quebec, at 47.4%, and lowest in Newfoundland and Labrador, at 22.9%. In 2000, the total number of divorces, 71,144, was up a marginal 0.3% from 1999, and up 3% from 1998.

Copyright © 2002 National Post