Divorce is technically the formal dissolution of marriage; more broadly conceived it is the catalyst for the increasing family fragmentation characterizing contemporary Western societies. From a societal perspective, divorce reflects the changing societal values and norms concerning marriage, gender, children, parenting, and caregiving. It has brought about significant shifts in the distribution of social welfare and has given new moral and political significance to previously uncharted demographic categories like “single motherhood.”

Closely connected to divorce in many respects, separation is often defined by jurists (especially in continental law systems) as “cessation of cohabitation” of the spouses by unilateral or mutual agreement—and in the case of “judicial separation,” by the decree of the court. Evidence that the spouses have been living separate and apart continuously for a ...

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