divorce and marital separation

divorce and marital separation

the legal or socially sanctioned dissolution of a marriage – divorce – as distinguished from the severing, temporary or permanent, of a marital relationship – separation – which may or may not lead to divorce. Sociological studies of divorce have focused mostly upon two issues: firstly the variations in the divorce rate, both comparatively and within societies, and, secondly, the various social adjustments necessary to the process.

Variations in divorce rates may be accounted for by reference to both individual expectations and to the role of marriage within kin groups. Where expectations are predominantly those of the kin (as in arranged marriages), rates of marital breakdown are likely to be low. Where individual expectations are high, as in most Western societies, there is often an accompanying social acceptance of dissolution in order that those expectations might be fulfilled elsewhere. Within the UK, the virtual eradication of the ‘marital offence’ (Divorce Reform Act, 1969 and subsequently) within divorce proceedings could be viewed as part of this process.

Social and personal adjustment to divorce has been studied in great detail both by sociologists and those involved in family conciliation work. Divorce, or indeed separation, can have many dimensions, including emotional uncoupling, the negotiation of child-custody and child-care issues, the settling of property and maintenance issues, the realignment of social and community relationships, and the resultant personal adjustments.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000