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Five things you probably didn’t know about divorce around the world

By Pieta Woolley

Divorce. It's serious. And it happens to a lot of us. In fact, about 40 percent of Canadian marriages end in it. What's more, as Trisha Elliott considers in this month's Observer, it can be complicated, dark and scary.

But putting all that aside for a minute, divorce is also an international trend — one with some bizarre edges. Whether you're divorced, thinking about divorce, or just resting on your "married" laurels and tsk-tsking the state of other people's unions, here's some fun facts that show breaking up isn't as hard to do as perhaps it once was.

1. The Philippines is the last country where divorce is illegal.

Divorce bills have been debated in the Catholic country of 98 million souls for several of years. But so far, divorce hasn’t been legalized. At the turn of the millennium, just three countries had no divorce law on the books: Chile, Malta and Philippines. Chile legalized it in 2004, though. Malta in 2011. Now, the matter is before Aquino III’s government.

2. Belgium has the highest rate of divorce, at 71 percent.

“You never add the right sugar. It’s the BIG crystals.”
“You are obsessed with the Liege! I prefer the Brussles. Why is this never about me, and my needs?”
“It’s because you don’t know how to cook!”
“It’s because of your Flemish ancestry!”
“I spit on your Frites.”
“That’s it. Let’s get divorced.”
“Fine. But I’m keeping our fabulous social housing unit.”

What do the Belgians have to fight about? With some of the best social programs in the world, relatively high incomes, great access to education and relaxed laws, you’d think couples could just chill out with some chocolates and enjoy their extraordinary good luck. But nope. The country totally digs divorce, too. And assisted suicide. And prostitution. Huh.  

3. Divorce ceremonies are not the weirdest thing about divorce ceremonies.

Oh, so trendy. The Wiccans call it a “handparting” ceremony. And for the rest of us (I guess), there’s a divorce ritual industry that’s sprung up to help mark the passage of what can be a truly awful experience. Even The Observer has covered it. But the weirdest thing? The surge in Japanese divorce ceremonies just months after the 2011 tsunami. They tripled.   

4. The United Church of Canada seems all like, “Meh,” over divorce.

In comparison to human sexuality, homosexuality and gender identity — things that the United Church has addressed over the past three decades — divorce is but a wallflower. A lonely dandelion. The last major denominational study on it was in 1960, when the church confirmed that, hey, it happens. In 2003, the church also released a guide that helped couples through the “beginnings, middles and endings of relationships.” But in comparison to, say, the Catholic Church, the United Church is positively mute. After all, a lefty-friendly Pope Francis once suggested that the church should do a better job of welcoming divorcees back to the pews — and the media went wild. Chances that we’ll see divorce added to a list of Catholic sacraments in our lifetimes, though? Less than zero.

5. Celebrities with the most number of divorces include Zhazha Gabor, Mickey Rooney and Elizabeth Taylor. Each have been divorced seven times. Not far behind, Christie Brinkley, Joan Collins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Liza Minelli and Martin Scorsese have been divorced four times each.

Still, the most divorced person was the late Californian Baptist minister, Glynn “Scotty” Wolfe. He divorced 26 times and was widowed twice. He passed away in 1997, leaving his last bride, Linda Essex — who had been married 23 times previously (the female world-record holder) — a widow, herself.

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