Divorce and LDS Civil Marriages

September 19, 2007    By: Matt W. @ 10:09 am   Category: Mormon Culture/Practices

Personally, I am not opposed to civil marriage within the LDS community, so long as it accords with the understanding that eventual temple sealing as the ideal is being sought out. I do understand that prophets and apostles in the past have encouraged temple marriage over civil marriage for a number of reasons. [1] There are several spiritual or religious reasons for this, which I will forego at this point as some may consider them subjective. Instead, let us look at more objective reasons for marrying in the temple.

First, let’s make some assumptions.
1.> The studies used in the encyclopedia of Mormonism, now 20 years old, are still pretty much accurate.
2.> Being divorced is undesirable.

That said, the multiple studies of Tim Heaton (referenced by the EOM) [2] and his associates point out the following information for us:


group divorce rate men divorce rate women divorce rate average
All LDS Marriages 14.0% 19.0% 16.5%
LDS Temple Marriages 6.0% 7.0% 6.5%
LDS Marriages outside the Temple 28.0% 33.0% 30.5%

Here we, of course, can see that temple marriages in the US have a higher probability of lasting. However, we still do not have the complete picture, which I will now attempt to derive.

First, we need to note that of the LDS divorces outside the temple, some are interfaith marriages. It has been stated that the divorce rate among interfaith lds marriages is around 40%, the highest interfaith divorce rate in America outside of interfaith Jewish marriages. [3] This would mean that the divorce rate for members marrying other members outside the temple is 21% [4] So rather than being between 5 and 6 times as likely to get divorced, members marrying other members outside the temple are only 3 times as likely to get divorced.

However, another component needs to be studied out. The statistic for LDS temple marriages makes up 58.3% of all marriages that are entered into. This 58.3% not only includes marriages which happened within the temple, but also civil marriages which later converted into temple marriages, both of the member to member and interfaith variety. While it would be interesting to speculate what percentage of civil marriages convert to temple marriages within the lds church, and the rates of divorce for the three groups mentioned (with time distributions, of course), it does not appear that there have been any studies within this domain. However, with the high percentage of first generation members in the church (not to mention the requirement in many foreign countries for a civil marriage prior to a temple sealing), it seems consistent to guess that civil marriages converting later to temple marriages make up a significant portion of all temple marriages.

Which brings me back to where I began, in that I am not opposed to civil union prior to a temple union, in so far as it is understood that the ultimate goal is a temple union. One way to look at it is to say that if you are married civilly, you have an 80% of not getting divorced before you go to the temple at the end of the year, at which point your “marriage survival” odds improve exponentially. Yes, the risks are there, but it is ultimately the job of the (hopefully mature)couple to weigh these risks and to decide whether it is better to marry and divorce or to postpone marriage to a later date. All the rest of us can do is wish well, continue to encourage christlike behavior, and teach that the temple marriage is the ultimate goal of any such union.

Sources:
[1] Doctrinally speaking, I find nothing that leads me to believe the church has any sort of position on whether it matters if a temple union is preceded by a civil union. The main corpus of text mainly points to the idea that “just a civil union” is not enough.
[2] EOM article on marriage
[3] [Bob Mims Mormons: high conservativism, low divorce, big growth, 6 March 1999, Salt Lake Tribune] as quoted at adherents.com.
[4] (.40 +.21)/2 = .305

24 Comments »

  1. I be havin’ t’ apologize, I forgot ‘t be “talk like a pirate day.” Maybe I ortin’ ta run th’ post through this translator?

    Comment by Matt W. — September 19, 2007 @ 10:37 am

  2. You seem to be accepting the premise that marrying in the temple per se reduces the probability of divorce. That is certainly consistent with they way the issue is presented by the powers that be, but is almost certainly a fallacious assumption. Instead, it is more likely the characteristics that make one worthy of marrying in the temple that reduce the probability of divorce.

    To test whether the temple per se reduces the probability of divorce, one cannot use marriages outside of the temple as the control group. Instead, one must identify a control group of marriages in which both parties were worthy of being married in the temple, but which were nevertheless solemnized outside of it. Good luck assembling that control group.

    Comment by Last Lemming — September 19, 2007 @ 11:05 am

  3. Avast, matey, I be baffled by footnote 4. What be that referrin’ t’?

    Comment by Last Lemming — September 19, 2007 @ 11:09 am

  4. LL: What is the purpose of the temple or any other covenant other than to develop our christlike characteristics? The argument that a marriage outside of the temple can have the same characteristics as one inside the temple fails in the face of the fact that while some do, many don’t.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 19, 2007 @ 11:12 am

  5. That’s how I derived th’ 21%.

    Hold on, maybe ‘t will make more sense if I edit an’ number th’ footnotes in th’ post correctly.

    Er, ye Scurvy Dog!

    Comment by Matt W. — September 19, 2007 @ 11:13 am

  6. Actually, even saying that “the characteristics that make one worthy of marrying in the temple reduce the probablity of divorce” is a fallacious assumption. I was considered worthy to marry in the temple. I was also gay. I remained married up until a few days short of my 18th anniversary–not because I was worthy of a temple recommend (and no, I didn’t cheat on my spouse), but because of the context of temple marriage.

    When one is taught that their marriage is a sacred covenant with deity, intended to last eternally and result in deification of the marriage partners, one tends to have above-average commitment to the marriage, even if the marriage happens to be an unhappy one.

    Sorry to say it, but I’m certain there are many very unhappy temple marriages out there, who remain together simply due to enormous emphasis on the “eternal covenant” which temple marriage entails.

    Comment by Nick Literski — September 19, 2007 @ 11:18 am

  7. Nick, you are, of course, challenging assumption #2 above. While I am sure that there are situations where divorces are more desireable than continuing the committment of marriage, I will still hold by my assumption #2 as solid, generally speaking.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 19, 2007 @ 11:27 am

  8. Matt, I’m not challenging the idea that divorce, generally speaking, is a bad thing. I think that’s a rather obvious statement. Rather, I’m saying that the emphasis on the seriousness of temple marriage as an eternal covenant with deity tends, IMO, to make a couple feel a greater obligation to remain married, including in circumstances where other couples would readily divorce.

    Is that more clear?

    Comment by Nick Literski — September 19, 2007 @ 11:50 am

  9. The argument that a marriage outside of the temple can have the same characteristics as one inside the temple fails in the face of the fact that while some do, many don’t.

    You have misstated my argument. I am not equating the characteristics of marriages in and out of the temple. I am interested in whether the lower divorce rate is better explained by the “templeness” of the marriage (i.e., the eternal covenant aspect, the specific promises made in the ceremony that are unique to the temple, etc.) or the characteristics of the people being married. It is precisely because people with bad characteristics are weeded out in one case but not the other that I propose a more restrictive control group that effectively weeds out bad characteristics from both groups. If the divorce rate is still lower for temple marriages, then the case for eternal covenants, etc. is much stronger than the one drawn from the above statistics.

    As for Nick’s case, we are talking about probabilities here. One case that doesn’t match the hypothesis tells us nothing interesting about marriage, but much about Nick.

    Comment by Last Lemming — September 19, 2007 @ 12:02 pm

  10. Nick- thanks for the clarification
    LL- are you arguing then that Nick’s Hypothesis (as stated in #8) is false?

    personally, I intened the post to be about comparing and contrasting the pros and cons (via the window of divorce) of getting married civily prior to temple marriage, rather than focusing on what really causes these pros and cons. I am not sure either of you have said anything that undermine the pros of a temple marriage over a civil marriage.

    um…ye mateys..

    Comment by Matt W. — September 19, 2007 @ 12:13 pm

  11. I’m confused, lemming. My statement supported the claim that temple marriages were less likely than non-temple marriages to divorce. Your “much about Nick” sneer leaves me clueless on what it was that disturbed you.

    Comment by Nick Literski — September 19, 2007 @ 12:15 pm

  12. Nick L. (#8):

    >…the emphasis on the seriousness of temple marriage as an eternal covenant with deity tends, IMO, to make a couple feel a greater obligation to remain married, including in circumstances where other couples would readily divorce.

    Is this, necessarily, a bad thing? In specific instances I see it as so, but, on the whole, I’m of the opinion that it is a better thing because if people found it more difficult to obtain a divorce (civil or temple), then there might be a greater deliberation about who to marry and in getting married.

    And, I can envision couples using the rationale: “We can be married civilly now and be sealed later. But, if it doesn’t work out, then we won’t have that covenant with God to break. Do overs!”

    That motive appears to lack a noticeable element of commitment for a LDS. If God is not part of the commitment (as in many civil marriages), my take is that there would be even a more noticeable lack of commitment with a greater divorce rate.

    Comment by mondo cool — September 19, 2007 @ 12:58 pm

  13. mondo, I didn’t say it was a bad thing. My comments aren’t a criticism of temple marriage in any way. I only referred to my own case as an illustration that yes, those factors weigh heavily in preventing (or at the very least, delaying) a divorce.

    Comment by Nick Literski — September 19, 2007 @ 1:07 pm

  14. Matt: personally, I intened the post to be about comparing and contrasting the pros and cons (via the window of divorce) of getting married civily prior to temple marriage

    Does the data even address this issue? I assumed that the “LDS Temple Marriage” category included all currently sealed couples — regardless of where they were first married. Are you certain that it excludes couples who were married civilly first and then sealed in the temple later?

    Comment by Geoff J — September 19, 2007 @ 1:16 pm

  15. Matt W: are you arguing then that Nick’s Hypothesis (as stated in #8) is false?

    I am arguing that the statistics you cite do not support a valid test of the hypothesis.

    Nick: My statement supported the claim that temple marriages were less likely than non-temple marriages to divorce. Your “much about Nick” sneer leaves me clueless on what it was that disturbed you.

    My intent was to observe that a sample size of one observation tells you nothing about the population, only about that one observation. If, by inserting the name of that observation, it sounded like a sneer, then I apologize. I am only disturbed if you truly believe that your case would disprove an otherwise statistically confirmed hypothesis (assuming we had one at hand, which we do not).

    Comment by Last Lemming — September 19, 2007 @ 1:18 pm

  16. Nick:

    I know you didn’t say it, but do you feel the consequences of “easy” divorce are, in general, to be favored or not?

    Comment by mondo cool — September 19, 2007 @ 1:22 pm

  17. This is the conclusion of the article Matt cites: DIVORCE. Based on research done in the 1970s and early 1980s, it has been concluded that Latter-day Saints are less likely to divorce than Catholics and Protestants and are far less likely than those with no religious affiliation. A study comparing Mormons in the United States and Canada with Protestants, Catholics, and those with no religious affiliation found that 14 percent of the Mormon men and 19 percent of the women had divorced. Comparable figures among the other groups were 20 percent and 23 percent for Catholic males and females; 24 percent and 31 percent for liberal Protestant males and females; 28 percent and 31 percent for conservative Protestant males and females; and 39 percent for males and 45 percent for females with no religious affiliation (Heaton and Goodman, 1985).

    Latter-day Saints married in a temple ceremony are considerably less likely to divorce than those married outside the temple (Thomas, 1983). Among men and women who were married in the temple, 6 percent of the men and 7 percent of the women have been divorced, while among men and women not married in the temple the figures were 28 percent and 33 percent, respectively (Heaton, 1988).

    It seems to support his claims.

    Comment by Blake — September 19, 2007 @ 1:22 pm

  18. #16:
    What you would consider an “easy” divorce? Is there such a thing? As a legal procedure, which is civil in nature, divorce should not be unduly complicated, let alone prevented. Every divorce has both positive and negative consequences. I don’t imagine anyone on this list favors the legal practice of some catholic-dominated countries, where divorce is actually illegal.

    A person who considers divorce is faced with comparing the “benefits vs. costs” of remaining married, with the “benefits vs. costs” of divorcing. The possible factors are innumerable, and no “general” conclusion can be made.

    Comment by Nick Literski — September 19, 2007 @ 1:42 pm

  19. Geoff- as I said in my post, it does not exclude those couples. Thus this pro is less of a pro than previously thought.

    That’s why I said:

    This 58.3% not only includes marriages which happened within the temple, but also civil marriages which later converted into temple marriages, both of the member to member and interfaith variety. While it would be interesting to speculate what percentage of civil marriages convert to temple marriages within the lds church, and the rates of divorce for the three groups mentioned (with time distributions, of course), it does not appear that there have been any studies within this domain. However, with the high percentage of first generation members in the church (not to mention the requirement in many foreign countries for a civil marriage prior to a temple sealing), it seems consistent to guess that civil marriages converting later to temple marriages make up a significant portion of all temple marriages.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 19, 2007 @ 1:49 pm

  20. My mistake Matt.

    So in answer to your question, it seems like the ideal is to marry in the temple first but if that is not possible then it seems that getting married civilly first is not exactly a highly risky move.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 19, 2007 @ 1:58 pm

  21. Be careful in your footnote [4]. It’s not usually possible to average percentages like that; you also need information about total numbers.

    Example: Suppose there are 2000 people who married outside the temple, and 610 (30.5 %) of them have divorced. If exactly 1000 of those marriages were interfaith and 400 (40%) of those interfaith marriages end in divorce, then that leaves 210 member-member non-temple marriages ending in divorce, matching the 21% you got. But if, instead, 1500 of those marriages are interfaith, and 600 (40%) of those end in divorce, then the divorce rate for member-member non-temple marriages is 10/500 = 2%. You only get 21% if there are exactly as many interfaith as there are member-member non-temple marriages.

    A similar erroneous calculation can occur if you try to average batting averages in baseball–if I bat .200 in the first half of the season (say, 32 hits in 160 at-bats) and .600 in the second half (say, 3 hits in 5 at-bats, followed by an injury for the rest of the season), it doesn’t follow that I hit .400 for the season.

    Comment by XiGauss — September 19, 2007 @ 6:14 pm

  22. Last Lemming and XiGauss are correct in pointing out that the data cited in the post do not lead to the conclusions drawn. Another misreading of the data seems to be the following statement:

    One way to look at it is to say that if you are married civilly, you have an 80% of not getting divorced before you go to the temple at the end of the year, at which point your “marriage survival” odds improve exponentially.

    The 80% appears to be referring to the 21% percent divorce rate in member-member non-temple marriages. However, this 21% rate, though likely inaccurate for the reason XiGauss stated, presumably refers to the probablity of the marriage ever ending in divorce, not the probability of it ending in divorce within a single year.

    Comment by Dan Y. — September 19, 2007 @ 7:34 pm

  23. Some interesting stats about marriage in today’s NYT. Apparently for people married in the 1950s, 80% made it to 15 year anniversary and 70% made it to 25 year anniversary. By comparison, of the people getting married for the first time in the 1980s only 60% made it to 15 years, and for those married in the 1970s only around 50% made it to 25 years. So, if I am reading this correctly, the divorce rate seems to be holding relatively steady, but we are getting divorced after fewer years.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 20, 2007 @ 11:25 am

  24. I’d like to get away from statistics which can’t cover the inner feelings harboured in marriages undisplayed without any action of divorce.
    Many times in my temple marriage of 7+ years we’ve both seriously wanted a divorce and weighed the cost. We both agreed if it wasn’t for our being sealed in the temple and for our children, we would of ended it in a heart beat.
    I believe a temple marriage gives you more reason to work it out or even stick it out. There’s a kind of pressure or fear of what happens if I want a temple marriage divorce? What about my kids? What an embarrasment it will be! There’s seems to be less pressure with a civil union. In a temple marriage,even if it is horrible, you seem to be willing to sit on your marriage longer to see what happens, even if your life is a living hell.
    These days our marriage is a lot better and we’ve grown through all the struggle and have become closer in many ways. I believe a temple marriage can help you do that rather that a civil marriage. People these days give up too quickly. So I think the type of marriages and type of people aren’t that much different but the drive and pressure behind it all can in a lot of cases be the determining factors that can not be measured easy. “The sealing” and I think “children” would be the biggest factors. I think you would see different statistics again where children are involved. What I mean is, I bet temple divorce rates are higher in families with no children involved as asposed to those families with children. Also the number of children may be a factor. In a civil marriage these matters are not trivial either, but I think they are taken with less seriousness.

    Comment by Gunner — September 20, 2007 @ 6:23 pm

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