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At the beginning of the twentieth century, divorce was rare in Canada. In 1900 a mere eleven divorces were registered. People widely disapproved of divorce, and the law restricted it. Until 1968, adultery was the only grounds for divorce. Families did dissolve during this period: Some spouses canceled their spousal and parental responsibilities by simply abandoning their families. However, they remained married under law, and this prevented remarriage and the legal establishment of a new family.

The introduction of the Divorce Act in 1968 led to a massive change in family behaviors. This law allowed judges to grant divorces on the grounds of "marriage-breakdown," after a couple had been separated for at least three years. Between 1968 and 1970, the number of divorces nearly doubled. A subsequent amendment to the Divorce Act in 1986 reduced the minimum period of separation to one year. Again, this modification resulted in a huge increase in divorce, with the number peaking at 90,900 divorces in 1987 (Oderkirk 1994).

Between 1965 and 1988, Canada's divorce rate went from being one of the lowest among industrialized nations to being one of the highest, surpassing even the divorce rates in progressive countries such as France and Sweden. In 1991, once divorce rates had leveled off, there were still 2.8 divorces per 1,000 people in Canada, compared with 1.9 in France and 2.5 in Sweden (in 1992). However, the American divorce rate surpassed that of Canada. In 1992 there were 4.8 divorces per 1,000 people in the United States—nearly twice the Canadian rate (Dumas 1994).

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsCanada - Defining Families, Trends In Marriage, Cohabitation Versus Marriage, Divorce, Variations On The Dominant Pattern