Divorce: Law and the Family in Canada


249 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography
ISBN 0-660-11283-3




Edited by The Research and Analysis Division, Statistics Canada
Reviewed by Sam Coghlan

Sam Coghlan was Deputy Director and Senior Consultant of the Thames Ontario Library Service Board, Southwestern Ontario.


Statistics can tell a story. The authors tell a compelling, interesting story of the past, the present, and the predictable (?) future of the Canadian family as indicated through available statistics concerning divorce actions in Canada. They bring their statistical tale to life with an intelligent, semi-scholarly text that talks about the means of various figures presented in very human terms. This is no mere collection of tables and graphs.

The authors bring together statistics largely compiled from Petitions for Divorce filed in Canada since the 1968 Divorce Act, although for sections dealing with custody of children, reports to the Ontario Official Guardian (who supposedly looks out for the children’s interests) are utilized. Over 100 scholarly references were drawn upon in the interpretation of these statistics.

The question of divorce in Canada is treated comprehensively, it being acknowledged from the beginning that insights into the family reached through the examination of divorce strike to the essence of Canadian society. A historical retrospective succinctly presents the state of the family as a legal institution since 1800. The analysis of current divorce activities presents several interesting statistical perspectives which add real substance to our understanding of the family. The authors discuss at length the differences between legal divorce and the social reality of family (or “household”) structures.

With all this, the book does have shortcomings. The lack of an index in a book of this importance is abominable. A list of tables and graphs should be included. Also, I noted that one reference (Veitch: 1980) could not be found in the table of references.

A weakness of the book’s content is the common one of using statistics to interpret human behaviour. The statistics tell us what people did over a given period of time. The temptation is strong to use this description as a picture of the way people will behave in the future. Lawyers may use the figures to obtain a handle on how things are likely to go in a case, but they should appreciate the fallibility of statistical predictions.

In total, though, the book will be a tremendous assistance to anyone seeking to understand the Canadian family.


“Divorce: Law and the Family in Canada,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 28, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/37805.