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Friends may affect probability of divorce

California spouses may be interested in a recent survey that found that individuals who had a close family member or friend divorce were more likely to divorce themselves. The statistics were based on three decades of research that followed the marriages of study participants in a Massachusetts town.

The project was started in 1948 and followed the same individuals in two-year increments. Participants in the study included more than 5,200 men and women between the ages of 30 and 62. A spinoff study centered on data collected between 1971 and 2001 in four-year increments. The recent survey drew from seven back-to-back rounds of the second-generation study.

The study found that participants had a 16 percent likelihood of divorcing if a friend got divorced, which is about 75 percent higher than the normal rate. Another finding of the study was that individuals in the study group who got a divorce were more likely to marry a person who had already been divorced. Study participants also reported that they had become less popular in their social circles as they lost friends from their spouse's connections and may have been perceived as threats by married acquaintances.

A person's chances of getting a divorce might be attributed to the effect of what sociologists have termed "social contagions," or the transmission of information, behaviors and perspectives regarding marriage, divorce or other matters through social networks. However, the study found that the effect only goes to the second degree of separation. For example, a friend of a friend of a friend getting a divorce has no effect on the first "friend's" divorce probability.

Family law lawyers may help people work out the contentious issues often present in a divorce. They may be able to assist with property division or help the spouses reach an amicable settlement agreement.

Source: Pew Research Center, "Is divorce contagious?", Rich Morin, October 21, 2013

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