Written by attorney Henry S. Gornbein


Over my many years specializing in family law, I have seen that second marriages have a higher failure rate than first marriages, and when you get to a third or fourth marriage, there is even a higher failure rate. Why is this the case? There are several reasons.

In the first place, in most first marriages, there are no children, both husband and wife are young, just starting out in life, often in school, or trying to build careers after finishing school, and neither party has much in the way of assets or debts, though that is changing with the heavy student loans that many people have, and the fact that credit cards have become such an issue. People are in love, often naive, but there is a lot less baggage in a first marriage.

Now let's contrast that with a second marriage. People are usually older, but not necessarily wiser. I have found over the years that people tend to marry the same type of person again and again. Physical characteristics may be different, but unless there is some type of therapy or help, people who are married to abusive spouses, will pick the same type of individual. If there are issues with regard to alcohol or drugs, these issues will be there in a second or third marriage.

The next factor is that there are usually children from first marriages. We love our children, but children do not want you to marry anyone else. After a divorce, children have this hope, often a fantasy and a strong desire, that their parents will get back together and remarry. So when there is a new romantic relationship, or even worse, a new step-parent, our children will make things more and more difficult. In addition, a step-parent is not an actual parent and can never replace the parent. Step-parents do not have the power to discipline, and are in the uncomfortable role of being not really a friend, and too often an enemy, while the children from a first marriage will do whatever possible to undermine the relationship in the second marriage.

Parenting time schedules, where you are now coordinating schedules with his and her, and sometimes our children (new children make matters even more complicated), make things very complicated, to say the least. In addition, there may be a custody battle or a fight over parenting time, and litigation involving a former spouse inevitably puts pressure on the new marriage. A child may move from one household to the other, putting pressure on the new household, especially if there is a lot of acrimony between the two former spouses.

Other issues include the fact that there are often debts and a spouse bringing in debts can cause resentment in a second or third marriage. Economics can be extremely problematical. A new wife may resent her loss of spousal support. The husband will feel that he is paying too much in child support, and that his new wife is receiving too little. If the new husband is paying spousal support to his former wife, this can be a problem.

Many people have not fully healed from the first marriage, and will jump into a second marriage too quickly, literally jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. All of these taken together, along with the fact that once you've been divorced, even though you vow you'll never do it again, it becomes easier to divorce a second or third time.

In addition, we also still have to deal with not only a new set of in-laws, but in-laws from a first marriage. Think about it. It is not easy. Here are some ideas that I can share with you:

  1. Don't rush into a second or third marriage. 2. Make sure that you have your finances in order, and know as much as possible about the finances of your prospective second or third spouse. What will be done with regard to work? How will money be handled? What assets are there? What debts are there? What income and cash flow is there? What about child-related issues? 3. Is this a case where there should be a prenuptial agreement? This often is a very good idea in a second or third marriage, especially with assets and children from a prior marriage. 4. Counseling going into the marriage to make sure that you are not rushing into something, and knowing exactly what you are doing, is important. 5. If you are involved with someone new, make sure the children are not introduced too quickly. Children should not be exposed to the romantic flavor of the month.

Think about these issues carefully, and if anything, this will help you understand why second and third marriages have a much higher divorce rate than first marriages.

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