Though we won’t have a complete picture of just how damaging the pandemic has been to relationships, and particularly to marriage, for some time, there’s some evidence that shows that divorce rates are up. According to LegalTemplates.net, an online contract builder, interest in “separation during quarantine peaked on April 13th — a 57 percent increase compared to February 13, 2020.” This comes at a time when, by nearly every measure, divorce rates in the U.S. had been on the decline since the 1980s, when they peaked at 50 percent. “Experts now put your chances of uncoupling at about 39 percent in the U.S.” Time magazine reported in 2018. Part of the decline, of course, is because millennials are getting married later in life, and divorce rates typically decline the older two people are when they get married.
Nonetheless, it appears that divorce is making a comeback in these stressed, close-quarters times. Which raises the question: Is there a perfect age or stage of life to get divorced?
First off, and somewhat obviously, no matter your age, the ideal time to get a divorce is before having kids, advises academic child psychiatrist Scott Carroll. “The children who typically have the most difficulty tend to be elementary school age,” he says. “From about five or six [years old] on to about 12 is typically the hardest time because they’re very attached to parents, and one of their great fears, of course, is that when the parents divorce, they worry that they caused it.”
This is largely in line with a major 1984 study which found that while younger siblings typically appeared “more depressed and emotionally scarred than older siblings,” per the New York Times report, “after 10 years had passed, younger children carried fewer memories of stressful events while older children tended to suffer continued vivid, damaging memories.” A more recent study from the University College of London also found that children between the ages of seven to 14 when their parents split are 16 percent more likely to suffer emotional and behavioral problems than those whose parents stay together.
Another factor to consider with regard to the best age to divorce, according to Carroll, is finances. Typically, he says, the less money you have, the less there is to fight over. Considering “women hit their peak earning age at 44, while men achieve their highest earnings 11 years later at 55,” according to a CNBC report, there is some value to not waiting until your kids have graduated high school to consider divorce as an option. “But sometimes divorce is like a conscious uncoupling where it’s not vindictive, it’s just kind of like, ‘This isn’t working, so we’re just going to go our separate ways,’” says Carroll. “So sometimes it’s not acrimonious, but when you have money, you can blow a lot of money on lawyers fighting over it.”
With regard to the potential for post-divorce romance, Carroll doesn’t mince words. “That really depends on gender, a lot,” he says. “Males do much better as they get older.” He’s not wrong: “In a piece looking at the phenomenon in 2006, The New York Times invoked an old saying that when it comes to grieving a lost spouse, “Women mourn; men replace.” To that end, according to a 2013 report from Pew Research Center, “64 percent of eligible men had remarried, compared with 52 percent of women.” All of which is to say, waiting until you’re older to get divorced, statistically speaking, often doesn’t work in favor of a woman’s future romantic prospects.
So what, then, is the ideal age to call it quits on an unhappy marriage? It’s a balance, says Carroll. “If you had to have a first divorce at 25 or 35, it’s probably going to affect you more just because of your youth and your maturity at 25,” he says. “Whereas at 35, I mean, you’re not happy about it, but at the same time, you’ve probably handled challenges, you’ve been through things, you have some idea, you have more confidence in yourself to bounce back.”
Ideally and typically, your children are still young enough in your early 30s for divorce to be less likely to incur long-term emotional damage. Not to mention, Carroll says, at “35, you’re still young enough to start over.”
Unfortunately, it can’t go without noting that your subsequent marriage is 17 percent less likely to succeed than your first. And the third one, well, those numbers are even worse.
But hey, that doesn’t mean you should stop trying!