Collection of Marriage and Divorce, Statistics by States: Final Report

Published: August 15, 2008
Strengthening Families, Healthy Marriage & Responsible Fatherhood
An Exploration of Options for the Collection of Marriage and Divorce Statistics at the National, State and Local Levels, 2003–2008 | Learn more about this project

Millions of marriages and divorces occur in the United States annually; each event is associated with a unique vital record. Individuals, governmental agencies, and other entities use these records, or certified copies of them, for a variety of purposes: individuals use them to define legal status and associated benefits (e.g., access to private health insurance of a spouse); governmental agencies use them to determine eligibility for programs and benefit amounts; researchers and others use them to calculate marriage and divorce rates by state—information that can also be aggregated for national estimates.

Behind the original records, certified copies, and the national statistics is a system comprised of state and local entities. State laws govern the collection and storage of vital records. As such, there is considerable variation in what they collect. Some collect simple counts of marriages and divorces, while other collect detailed demographic and other information about couples involved in the event. Some states collect information from marriage and divorce documents electronically from courts and local offices where events are recorded, while others collect copies or originals of key forms. Relative to birth and death records, marriage and divorce statistics are somewhat incomplete and the systems in place for collecting them not as developed. Although states have recently emphasized re-engineering of birth and death systems, marriage and divorce systems generally remain paper-based.