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Is a Rhode Island Divorce Contagious?

We all know that certain illnesses are contagious. Chickenpox, mononucleosis and strep infections are all contagious.  We keep our children home from school or we stay out of work if we are contagious.  A recent study from the Pew Research Center suggests that divorce of a friend or close relative dramatically increases the chances that you will divorce, too.

A team of local researchers at Brown University looked at three decades of information on split-ups and remarriage from residents of one town in Massachusetts. The researchers found that people were 75% more likely to end their marriage if a friend's marriage is broken and 33% more likely to end a marriage if a friend of a friend is divorced.

People hear from friends that they are getting legally separated and from social networking, learn of friends and friends of friends who are ending their marriages. Friends often relate stories, often exaggerated, to their married friends about how wonderful it is to be single again. The study led by Rose McDermott reported "The contagion of divorce can spread through a social network like a rumor, affecting friends up to two degrees removed."

The study was based on data collected in seven successive rounds of interviews from 1971 through 2001. The group studied were from one town so it may not be representative of all different demographics; the group was nearly all white, better educated and more likely to be middle class.

Overall, the failed marriage of a friend or close relative significantly increased the probability of separating and ending a mariage. Conversely, the health of a friend's marriage might support and enhance the durability of one's own marriage.

On a personal level, having represented many parties in divorce litigation or as a divorce mediator, I often hear a statement that the other spouse has been going out with friends who have recently ended their marriage. Peer influence exists on many levels, from the type of clothing adolescent's wear to the food we eat, to the restaurants we frequent and even to the issue of whether we exercise or not. The influence of a close friends or relatives who have ended a marriage can be very persuasive. We have no advice for you if your spouse is spending more time with his or her recently divorced friends. But acting proactively and not taking your spouse for granted becomes very important.

Source: "Is divorce contagious?", Richard Morin, October 21, 2013.

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