Divorce Statistics Misleading
With a handful of gay/lesbian clients, I was interested in the article, "With Gay Marriage Comes Gay Divorce" in the brand new issue of Financial Advisor [January 2008].
While I found much of the information valuable and instructive, one statistic asserted by both Ms. Moore and Ms. Neiman particularly bothered me.
Pollster Louis Harris has written [in his 1987 book, Inside America], "The idea that half of American marriages are doomed is one of the most specious pieces of statistical nonsense ever perpetuated in modern times." It all began when the Census Bureau noted that during one year, there were 2.4 million marriages and 1.2 million divorces. Someone did the math without calculating the 54 million marriages already in existence, and presto, a ridiculous but quotable statistic was born." Harris concludes," Only one out of eight marriages will end in divorce. In any single year, only about 2% of existing marriages will break up."
This was a topic first brought to my attention by one of my law professors long ago, and I‚ve continued to follow it lightly. If you have citations that would lead me to accept the 50% assertion, I‚d genuinely appreciate them. On the flip side, if this is simply a case of repeating something–such as "Columbus discovered America"–you‚d do a great service to many people to let them know.
Jay Barish, CFP
Ameriprise Financial
Raleigh, N.C.

Another View
Many of the prior studies about marriage and divorce were erroneous–partially because of distortions in statistics, and partially because of the way the studies were done ["With Gay Marriage Comes Gay Divorce," January 2008].
For that reason, there is really only one study that I think is valid, and that is the one done recently which looked at the survival rate of particular marriages–not just the number of marriages and divorces per year. This study, which was very thoroughly done, showed that more than 50% of all marriages end by the 25th year–though this includes death as well as divorces. They also show that 20% of Americans have been divorced–though some of them have been divorced more than once. So, I believe it is valid to say that at least half of all recent marriages will end within 25 years.
I also believe that the statistics would be far higher for lesbian/gay couples, for several reasons: The divorce rate among couples without kids has always been higher than those with kids, and the percentage of gay couples with kids is definitely lower than straight marriages. And, I believe, there is far less social stigma for gay couples to break up, compared to straight couples.
But, there are two even more difficult problems with this sort of analysis: 1) The main reason the divorce rate is going down is that the marriage rate has gone down, and so a higher percentage of couples are simply living together unmarried, and then breaking up, without ever showing up on any statistical survey. 2) Since most gay couples can‚t marry or register in the states they live in, it is very hard to say when a couple is really a couple.
Frederick C. Hertz, attorney
Oakland, Calif.

Editor‚s Note: The article discussed in the letters above focused on how financial planning can help gay couples in the event of a divorce. The quotes referred to came from Susan Moore, a CFP licensee and president of Moore Financial Advisors LTD, in Watertown, Mass., and Debra Neiman, a certified financial planner in Arlington, Mass., and author of the book Money Without Matrimony. Ms. Moore‚s quote was, "Recent data shows that 50% of all marriages end up in divorce at some point, so you have to assume at least a percentage of that will apply to gay couples." Ms. Neiman‚s quote was, "We do retirement planning, tax planning and estate planning for gay couples, and the divorce rate nationally is 50% and yet people don‚t plan for that–even though your chances of getting a divorce is high and it would probably happen a lot sooner than retirement."