Since the divorce laws changed in Canada, getting a divorce has been easier for Canadians. Men and women have been able to file for divorce on the same grounds, and since 1986, people no longer have to be separated for three years before they can file for divorce. How have these changes in the law reflected in the number of divorces in Canada?
As well as looking at the rate of divorce, we have included other key statistics on divorce in Canada. These include statistics on the average length of the marriage, the number of people who remarry in Canada, and the average cost of divorce.
Divorce Statistics for Canadians
- The number of divorces in Canada in 2020 was the lowest since 1973.
- The peak year for divorces was 1987, when there were 97,773 divorces.
- The rate of divorces in Canada has declined since 1991.
- In 2020, the average length of divorce proceedings was 5.8 months.
- Marriages in Canada last, on average, 15 years.
- 31% of divorce applications were filed jointly in 2020.
- The rate of divorce has decreased the most in Ontario, by 36%.
- Canadians in their early to mid-forties are the most likely to divorce.
- Common-law relationships are becoming more common in Canada, with a 15% rise between 1981 and 2016.
- An uncontested divorce costs $1,860 on average, and a contested divorce $20,625.
Divorce in Canada
In Canada, marriages can be dissolved through divorce or annulment. Both proceedings involve a judicial decree. Canada’s first unified divorce law came to force in 1968. After that, it was easier for Canadians to obtain a divorce. However, there were still considerable legal difficulties involved.
Before 1968, divorce could be obtained on the grounds of a matrimonial offence. Following the law, divorce could also be obtained on the grounds of marriage breakdown. Until 1986, couples filing for divorce based on marital breakdown had to be separated and live apart for three years before a divorce could be granted.
In 1986, a revised Divorce Act came into force, and it included a no-fault divorce. It also defined marriage breakdown as partners living apart for at least twelve months, adultery, or physical, or mental cruelty.
Number of Divorces in Canada Per Year
Data on divorces from Statistics Canada shows that the number of divorces per year declined between 2016 and 2020. In 2016, there were over 62,000 divorces compared to just over 56,000 in 2019 and 42,000 divorces in 2020. The exact number of divorces in 2020, 42,933, was the lowest number recorded since 1973.
The peak year of divorces granted in Canada was 1987, when 97,773 were granted. The peak followed the amendments to the Divorce Act that reduced the years of separation from three years to one.
There are two likely explanations for the sharp fall between 2019 and 2020. The first is COVID-19. It is likely that many couples postponed filing for divorce while the pandemic made it more difficult to access court services. Another likely reason is that more people are choosing common-law relationships over marriage in Canada, and fewer marriages lead to fewer divorces.
There is currently no data available on the number of divorces in 2021 or 2022. When this data does become available, it will be interesting to see what has happened since 2020 and 2019, the two years when the number of divorces fell in Canada. Has the rate of divorce continued to go down or started to rise again after the pandemic?
The Rate of Divorces in Canada Has Declined Since 1991
The number of divorces in Canada has decreased in the last three decades. The change is contributed to two key factors: the aging of the married population and younger generations choosing common-law unions over marriages. If people from younger generations decide to marry, they often do it when they are older.
Length of Divorce Proceedings in Canada
Looking at the five-year data from Statistics Canada, the length of divorce proceedings has stayed fairly similar. In 2016, the median duration of divorce proceedings was 5.4 months compared to 5.8 months in 2020. Interestingly, while the number of divorces was almost the same at 61,000 in 2018 as they were in 2016, the median length of divorce proceedings fell to 4.8 months.
Duration of Marriages in Canada
The mean duration of marriages has remained stable in Canada since the amendments to the divorce law. The mean duration of marriage was 15.6 years in 2016, and in 2020 it was 15.3 years.
The number of Jointly Filed Divorces is Growing
In 2020, a larger portion of divorces was filed jointly than in 2016. The percentage of divorces filed jointly went up from 25% to 31% during that time. This means that the portion of people divorcing amicably rather than following a major issue such as adultery is growing.
The Number of Divorces Fell across the Provinces in Canada in 2020
The data from Statistics Canada shows that there were fewer divorces across the country in 2019 compared to 2020. Ontario, where the number of divorces went down by 36%, saw the largest drop. Except for Ontario, the rate was between New Brunswick’s 11% and Alberta’s 22% in all provinces.
In Yukon and Northwest Territories, the number of divorces remained stable. Nunavut was the exception among the territories, but fluctuations in Nunavut are normal due to the low number of divorces filed for each year.
Marrying Young Increases the Risk of Divorce
People who marry when still in their teens are almost twice as likely to divorce than people who marry between 25 and 29 years old. People who get married in their mid-thirties or later have a 43% lower risk of divorce.
Divorce Rates For Different Age Groups
The data from Statistics Canada shows that the number of divorces is consistently highest in the 40-44 age group, while it is lowest for people under twenty, between 20 and 24, or over 50 years old. Considering that the average length of marriage in Canada is 15 years and the average age to get married is about 30, it is not surprising to see the peak of divorces in the early to mid-forties age group.
However, the number of divorces in the 40-44 age group is declining faster than in the 50 to 59 age group. While the rate of divorce declined by 36% among 40-44-year-olds, it only declined by 27.7% among 55 to 59-year-olds. Part of the reason behind the faster decline in the younger age group is that common-law relationships are more common in that age group.
The Number of Divorces by Gender
Before the Divorce Act, only men could file for divorce based on adultery alone. If a woman wanted to file for divorce, she would have to allege additional grounds for divorce as well as adultery. After the act, the same grounds applied to men and women equally.
Based on the data, women had a higher rate of divorce compared to men in 2017. While there were 8.6 divorces for 1,000 married women, the rate for men was 8.4 per 1,000 married men.
However, there are variations between age groups. For example, in the under-20 age group, the rates are 3 and 4.1 for women and men, respectively. In the 20 to 34 age group, the rates are 13.27 for women and 11.4 for men. Among people over 50, men have consistently higher divorce rates than women.
Marriage as a Source of Happiness
When people perceive marriage as a source of happiness, they are more likely to stay married. On the other hand, those who do not see marriage as a key factor in their happiness levels are three times more likely to file for divorce. Canadians who were remarried were considerably less likely to say marriage was a key source of happiness for them.
The Number of Divorced People is Growing
The number of divorced people in Canada has risen year-on-year. In 2016, there were 1.88 million divorced people in Canada and 2.71 million in 2020. However, as fewer people are getting married and the number of divorces declines, it is predicted that the number of divorced people will begin to decline at some point, too.
Remarriage in Canada
Statistics show that the majority of Canadians who divorce remarry. Men are more likely to get married again than women. In the 1990s, around a third of marriages in Canada had at least one partner who had been married before. While some of these were people who remarried after the death of their partner, the large majority were divorced people.
At the beginning of the new millennium, around 10% of Canadians were on their second marriage, while about 1% had married more than two times. By 2017, 26% of Canadians were on their second marriage or common-law relationship.
It seems that Canadians aged between 35 and 64 do not wait very long after divorcing or separating before they enter into a new marriage or common-law union. For men, it is 4.6 years on average and 4.8 years for women.
36% of people who are in a new relationship after divorce or separation are in common-law relationships. 46% started in a common-law partnership and then got married, while only 18% went straight into marriage.
In Quebec, the residents are more likely to have subsequent relationships compared to other provinces or territories. 36% of the people in Quebec are in their second marriage or common-law relationship.
Statistics on Divorce do Not Reflect All Dissolutions of Unions
Divorce statistics do not include information on couples who have separated but have not yet divorced or the dissolutions of common-law unions. Because divorce data excludes these couples, the rate of conjugal instability is likely higher than the data shows, especially as the number of common-law couples in Canada has increased in the last decades. In 1981, common-law couples represented 6% of all couples, while in 2016 they represented 21% of all couples.
How Much Does a Divorce Cost in Canada?
In 2021, the average cost of an uncontested divorce in Canada was $1,860, while a contested divorce cost $20,625 on average. Divorces that involved a trial cost an additional $19,087 to $43,481. The longer the trial, the higher the cost.
In some cases, couples may need a separation agreement during their mandatory year of separation. This will cost between $5,463 and $7,014. The exact cost depends on whether there are children.
Other divorce-related costs include spousal support agreements at $6,274, child custody and support agreements at $2,236, and variation applications called Motion to Change at $6,863. These are all averages, and costs are likely to vary depending on location and the size of the law firm.
The changes to divorce law in Canada in the 1960s and later in the 1980s have made it legally easier to divorce. The changing attitudes have also made divorce more acceptable. At first, this led to a rise in the number of divorces reaching its peak after the law change in the 80s. However, the numbers have been declining since 1991.
The divorce statistics do not give a full picture of the number of couples who have ended their significant relationships since it only includes couples who have legally divorced. In reality, the number of couples whose relationships end is likely to be higher.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many divorces are there in Canada each year?
In 2020, there were 42,933 divorces in Canada. This was the lowest number since 1973, but it was likely because of the issues caused by COVID-19.
What does it cost to divorce in Canada?
The cost of a divorce depends on various factors. While an uncontested divorce can cost less than $2,000, a contested divorce costs over $20,000 on average. There can also be other costs involved depending on the situation.
Who is more likely to divorce, men or women?
Men, on average, are more likely to divorce than women. However, this varies across age groups.