One of the happiest countries has one of the highest divorce rates — but new rules may change that

It's all about protecting the kids.

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It’s all about protecting the kids.
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nd3000/Shutterstock

  • Denmark, one of the world’s happiest countries, has the highest divorce rate in western Europe.
  • Currently, couples there can complete an online form, pay a $60 fee, and get a divorce in less than a week.
  • New rules set to go into effect next year would require couples with kids to go through a three-week “reflection period” and get free counseling before a divorce is made final.

Denmark is consistently ranked as one of the happiest countries in the world. It also has the highest divorce rate in western Europe: Nearly half of all marriages ended in divorce as of 2017.

One reason for the relatively high divorce rate might be that splitting up in Denmark is a relatively seamless process. The New York Times reported that couples can complete an online form, pay a $60 fee, and get a divorce in less than a week.

Yet according to The Times, all that could change next year, when new rules around the divorce process are set to go into effect. Couples who have children and want to dissolve their marriage will now be required to take a three-month “reflection period” and get free counseling before they’re granted a divorce. The goal is to protect children, who will also receive counseling during this time.

As for couples without kids – and in cases of abuse – a speedier divorce will still be possible.

Kathryn Smerling, a New York City-based psychotherapist who helps couples going through divorce, told Business Insider that Denmark’s current divorce process is “absolutely an anathema towards emotional wellbeing and health.”

On the other hand, “the idea of a three-month reflection period is actually a wonderful idea when there are children involved,” Smerling added.

“Marriage and families are not disposable. You do need time to think about how you’re going to deal with the children, how you’re going to tell the children, how are the children going to live with both [parents] if they’re going to do that.”

Divorce in the US is often much more complicated

In the US, divorce is typically a much lengthier and more expensive process. The average divorce filing fee is $215; the average divorce attorney’s fees are $10,180. (One lawyer previously told Business Insider that a divorce in Manhattan can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.)

Smerling said she has couples in her practice who have been trying to get divorced for half a decade, held up by things like delayed court dates.

But as INSIDER’s Louis Baragona reported, celebrity-divorce lawyer Laura Wasser recently launched a website that gives couples the tools to get divorced online. The site, It’s Over Easy, is only available to couples in California and New York, and the cost of the process starts at $750.

Smerling said divorce is a completely different story for couples with and without kids. In the latter circumstance, she said, “It’s very easy to say goodbye and you never see the person again.”