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Soviet Union


With a rate of 3.4 divorces per 1,000 people, the Soviet Union was second only to the United States (4.8 divorces) among industrialized countries in 1986. David Lane has asserted, however, that the real family disintegration rate between these two countries was comparable because the legal difficulties and expense of a divorce in the Soviet Union encouraged "unofficial" divorces or separations.

The Soviet divorce rate varied according to region and population density. In Soviet Central Asia, it was two to three times lower than in European areas; the rate was also higher in cities and in newly developed regions. Divorce rates in rural areas averaged about 40 percent of those in cities.

Surveys have shown that couples divorced for a variety of reasons. Drunkenness, incompatibility, and infidelity were major causes; jealousy of the spouse, separation, and physical incompatibility were minor causes. In the Muslim areas of the country, conflict between the wife and the husband's parents was a major reason for divorce; however, Muslim women were less likely to initiate divorce than women in other regions of the Soviet Union. Stronger devotion to family life and the nature of marriage itself lowered acceptance of divorce in Muslim areas. Soviet surveys have shown that 87 percent of urban and 84 percent of rural Uzbeks opposed divorce for couples with children, whereas only 54 percent of urban Russians and 51 percent of urban Estonians held this view.

Housing problems and the lack of privacy contributed significantly to the high rate of divorce. One study showed that nearly 20 percent of divorces occurring during the first years of marriage were attributed to housing problems and about 18 percent to conflicts with parents. In 1973 in Leningrad, 31.7 percent of divorcing couples had lived with parents or in a hostel, 62.3 percent in a shared apartment, and only 5.1 percent in a separate apartment.

Divorces cost between 60 and 200 rubles depending on income and were granted more quickly if the couple had no children. In general, divorces were relatively simple to obtain, but the court always attempted to reconcile the couple first. Courts also generally awarded the mother custody of the children.

Data as of May 1989