Divorce: it's a bronze medal for Belgium!

Statistics for the European Union put Belgium in 3rd place where divorce is concerned. Only Latvia and Lithuania have more cases of divorce. The explanation can be found in Belgium, but also abroad. The most common reason to split up, is "we've grown apart."
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This is the third of five episodes about Belgians and Europe. Tomorrow, we highlight how prices for the same products can be different across the EU member countries, using the example of an IKEA book shelf. How much can prices differ, and what's the reason behind this?

Belgium has 2.9 cases of divorce for every 1,000 inhabitants. This well behind Latvia (4.0) and Lithuania (3.4) but still before most European countries. In absolute figures, Belgium has almost 32,000 divorces a year. Malta, Ireland, Italy, Slovenia and Greece have the least cases of divorce. Malta has a score of 0.1, Ireland boasts a score of 0.7.

While Belgium is now in 3rd place, it was in the European peloton a few years ago. Dimitri Mortelmans, a sociologist and professor at the Antwerp University (Universiteit Antwerpen) sees an explanation both in Belgium and abroad. "In Flanders, the number of people getting a divorce boomed in the 80ies and 90ies. Catholic faith prevented this trend for a long time, but the industrialisation and the fact that Catholic faith and values started losing ground, caused a steady rise in the number ever since."

"Within Europe, the Scandinavian countries topped the list for quite some time. However, the surge in divorce cases triggered a change in people's behaviour, with more couples opting for cohabitation. Among these couples, we see that an equal number or even more are splitting up compared to those that got married, but this doesn't have an effect on the statistics."

"This explains why the Scandinavian countries enjoyed a slight drop in the rankings, and why Belgium steadily moved up the divorce table. In Belgium, cohabitation only got popular at a later stage, but I predict that over a couple of years, Belgium will also see a drop." 

The 3 most popular reasons to split up

Latvia and Lithuania are doing worse than Belgium, but these countries also have more marriages. When asked why they file for a divorce, men and women give the same answers. The top-3 goes a s follows: "We have grown apart" is the most popular reason, followed by "we don't match" and the presence of "a third party", the report "Divorce in Flanders" by Professor Mortelmans shows.

Can legislation make a difference where divorce is concerned? According to Professor Mortelmans, it almost has no impact. "In Ireland, getting divorced is only something recent, and in Malta, it was only introduced recently. These two countries also introduced a "cooling-off" period. Couples should have been apart for four years before they can actually start the procedure to get divorced."

"Belgium also used to have a cooling-off period, until 1994. In practice, it turned out that this didn't work, which is why most countries, including Belgium, just scrapped it." 

"Procedures are getting shorter, because it turns out that long procedures generate more conflicts. Legislation never works as a way to prevent divorce, but it also doesn't act as a trigger that puts the number up. Legislation always follows when a trend in society has already been set."