In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Divorce

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Journals
  • Theoretical Works
  • Family Law
  • Self-Represented Litigants
  • Parent Adjustment
  • Child Adjustment
  • Blended Families
  • Never Married
  • Father Involvement
  • Same-Sex Relationships and Separation
  • Coparenting
  • Parenting Plans
  • Infant and Toddler Overnights
  • Domestic Violence / Intimate Partner Violence
  • Economic Consequences
  • Culture and Religion
  • High Conflict
  • Alienation
  • Relocation
  • Parenting Education Programs After Divorce
  • Mediation
  • Custody Evaluations
  • Supervised Access Programs
  • Parenting Coordination
  • Reunification Therapies

Social Work Divorce
Michael Saini, Marsha Kline Pruett
  • LAST REVIEWED: 03 August 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0035


Divorce is the legal dissolution of an adult couple relationship by a court or other legal authority to terminate the legal contract of marriage. Because divorce is a legal sanction, most countries have records of the number of adults who marry and then divorce. Some adult relationships end suddenly, while others seem to fall apart over a long period of time. International estimates of divorce range from approximately 30 percent to 60 percent of marriages. Conversely, separation is referred to as the dissolution of a couple’s relationship without legal intervention. This includes adults who never marry but who live together and then separate and couples who separate but do not legally end their marriages. There are no accurate prevalence rates for the number of couples who separate. Most divorced and separated couples are likely to feel a range of intense emotions, such as sadness, anger, fear, loneliness, and confusion over the uncertainty of the future. The dissolution of an adult relationship is described as the second most stressful life event, following the death of an immediate family member. Although divorce and separation can occur at any stage of an adult relationship, most literature focuses on parents who separate and the impact of the separation on the children. Separating adults who do not share children have been encouraged to “decouple,” while those who share children have been encouraged to work cooperatively for the interests of their children.

Introductory Works

The consequences of divorce and separation are far-reaching, and social workers in various fields of practice frequently are called to assist children and families’ adjustments to these major life changes. Experienced and emergent social workers need access to current and relevant information regarding the dissolution of adult relationships in order to help clients navigate through the intersections of family law and mental health services. The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) provides an excellent opportunity for social workers to become more aware of the issues relevant to divorce and separation. This interdisciplinary association provides current information about training opportunities, standards for practice, and professional resources essential for increasing knowledge in this area. Another good introductory source is the Department of Justice Canada Key Publication list, which includes valuable sources on topics such as child custody, child support, the courts, and divorce. For a broader overview of divorce trends, Parke 2013 and DiFonzo and Stern 2013 provide a comprehensive introduction to the legal, clinical, and policy implications of structural family change and divorce. Ahrons 2004, Amato and Booth 2000, and Hetherington and Kelly 2002 are seminal longitudinal works that have followed divorced and separated families over decades and provide an important overview of the various family trajectories associated with these life changes.

  • Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC).

    The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) is an interdisciplinary and international association of professionals working in the field of divorce and separation. Their primary concern is reduction of conflict in families. The association’s website provides a comprehensive list of key resources for professionals and families.

  • Ahrons, Constance. 2004. We’re still family: What grown children have to say about their parents’ divorce. New York: HarperCollins.

    This influential book provides a compelling account of children’s experiences after divorce. Based on a longitudinal study, this text documents the lives of children after divorce into young adulthood and provides practical strategies of working through the process of divorce based on the experiences of the participants.

  • Amato, Paul R., and Alan Booth. 2000. A generation at risk: Growing up in an era of family upheaval. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

    Despite its age, this book offers an excellent introduction to the long-standing debate about whether parents should stay together or divorce for the sake of their children. Based on an American national longitudinal study, the authors document parental conflict as a key factor in family members’ divorce adjustment.

  • Department of Justice Canada.

    The “Key Publication” section of this website includes a number of reports commissioned by the Department of Justice Canada regarding divorce and separation, including high conflict, child support, contact problems, and parenting plans. Although focused on Canadian issues, most reports include literature from other countries.

  • DiFonzo, J. Herbie, and Ruth C. Stern. 2013. Intimate associations: The law and culture of American families. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press.

    DOI: 10.3998/mpub.1964270

    The rise in divorce, cohabitation, single parenthood, and same-sex partnerships, along with an increase in surrogacy, adoption, and assisted reproductive technologies, has led to many diverse configurations of families and intimate associations. The book chart these trends over the past several decades and investigate their social, legal, and economic implications.

  • Hetherington, E. Mavis, and John Kelly. 2002. For better or for worse: Divorce reconsidered. New York: Norton.

    Based on her longitudinal study of over fourteen thousand families and twenty-five hundred children over three decades, this text is a primer for the range of experiences of families and children after divorce. Viewing the divorce as a series of “interconnected transitions” in life rather than a one-time event, this book shows how the divorce can be destructive in the short term, but it can also be a positive set of events that creates new opportunities for long-term personal growth.

  • Parke, Ross D. 2013. Future families: Diverse forms, rich possibilities. Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781118602386

    A focus on family diversity is interwoven with empirical research to provide an intellectual but engaging examination of contemporary families. Parke explores how changes in gender roles, numbers of caregivers, and family structures contribute to the changing landscape of family boundaries and development.

  • Wallerstein, Judith, and Joan B. Kelly. 1980. Surviving the breakup: How parents and children cope with divorce. New York: HarperCollins.

    Based on the Children of Divorce Project, a landmark study of sixty families during the first five years after divorce, this enlightening and humane modern classic altered the conventional wisdom on the short- and long-term effects of family dissolution.

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