Countries Without Divorce
By Jayne Thompson
Updated November 04, 2019
In 2019, divorce is illegal in only two nation states: the Philippines and the Vatican City. Every other country allows its citizens to divorce under some conditions, although those conditions may not be the same as in the United States. Many countries place restrictions on who can dissolve their marriages and under what circumstances. In most places, it’s necessary to get the authorization of the court in a legal process.
Divorce in the Vatican City
Covering an area of only 100 acres and with a permanent population of just 842 residents, the Vatican City is the smallest country in the world. It is an ecclesiastical city, governed as a monarchy with the pope at its head. The population is 100 percent Catholic, largely comprising celibate priests and the Pope’s pastoral staff. The Catholic faith believes in the sanctity of marriage, so it’s not surprising that that this independent city-state rejects divorce on ideological grounds.
Divorce in the Philippines
The Philippines has a more troubled history with divorce and is currently the only member of the United Nations where divorce is illegal. The country’s Muslim minority is allowed to divorce under certain conditions in accordance with Shari’a law, but non-Muslims can annul their marriages only through a process that is notoriously slow and expensive to encourage people to honor their marriage commitments. The average annulment takes around 10 years and is estimated to cost around 50 percent of the average worker’s annual salary, which puts it beyond the reach of most families.
Situations that would be grounds for divorce in the United States – desertion, cruelty or physical abuse, for instance – are only reasons for a legal separation under Philippines law. Separation is not the same as a divorce, however, and neither spouse has the ability to remarry once separated.
Adultery is also illegal in the Philippines. If convicted, married men may face up to four years in jail, and married women up to six.
Countries With the Lowest Rates of Divorce
Some other countries provide for divorce, yet make it tremendously hard to obtain one. Divorce has long been taboo in many middle-eastern countries, for example. In Turkey and Iran, spouses must commit to counseling to fix their issues before they can even think about divorce. As a result, the divorce rate in each of these countries stands at just 22 percent. This is extremely low compared to the U.S. where the average marriage length is 12.2 years and the divorce rate is 46 percent.
Other countries have a low rate of divorce for cultural as well as legal reasons. In India, only 13 out of every 1,000 marriages ends in divorce. The rate is low partially because a woman who seeks a divorce is perceived as acting against the norms of society, and partially because cases can drag on for many months and years as the court considers issues of abuse and claims of dowry.
Chile, a country with a 3-percent divorce rate, made divorce legal only in 2005. Here, there is no such thing as a no-fault divorce, which means one spouse has to prove physical abuse, abandonment or chronic infidelity before their divorce application will be granted. It’s fair to say that culturally, there’s still a lot of stigma surrounding divorce in this country.
Countries With the Highest Rates of Divorce
In 2019, the countries with the highest divorce rates were:
- Luxembourg: 87 percent
- Spain: 65 percent
- France: 55 percent
- Russia: 51 percent
- USA: 46 percent
What these countries have in common is that they make it “easy” to get divorces, in the sense that spouses can dissolve their marriages without putting blame on the other party (so-called no-fault divorces), or the fault categories are extensive enough that it’s relatively simple to show that a marriage has broken down. High-divorce countries usually allow couples to divorce after a short period of separation of one or two years in most cases.
A former real estate lawyer, Jayne Thompson writes about law, business and corporate communications, drawing on 17 years’ experience in the legal sector. She holds a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Birmingham and a Masters in International Law from the University of East London.