Un-tying The Knot

generic divorce wedding marriage court
Is breaking up really hard to do? Maybe not, when you consider that about 50 percent of marriages in the United States end in divorce. But times are changing, and to start off Valentine's Day week, correspondent Kelly Wallace reported our Sunday Morning Cover Story, examining marriage and divorce in America.

First things first: About half of all couples who marry in this country actually will make good on that vow to tough it out "for better or for worse … "til death do us part…"

And - for better or for worse - 85 percent of us will eventually take that trip down the aisle - or at the very least, pay a visit to the marriage license bureau, like the one that CBS News correspondent Kelly Wallace visited in New York City.

And when you ask newlywed couples like Philip Hansen and Nicoline Petersen about the future, things look pretty rosy, despite the fact that nearly one out of every two first American marriages will fail.

"Why did you decide to get married?" Wallace asked the happy couple.

"We have been together nine years, four months," Nicoline told her. "When you have been living that long, time has decided we will spend our lives together."

"You're optimistic?" Wallace asked the groom.

"Yes," he joked, "I am coming here now just to get divorced tomorrow."

Laura Gibson and Chad Rimer like their chances, too.

"Why did you decide to get married?" Wallace asked them.

"There has always been a feeling I am in it to the end," said Laura. "I love him, I trust him, that is why I do not think we will be a statistic."

So what are their odds?

With Valentine's Day around the corner - we thought we'd take a closer look at marriage, and divorce, in America in 2008.

To begin, you'll be encouraged to learn that, while the divorce rate doubled from 1960 to 1980 (the days of the sexual revolution), since 1980, the number of divorces in this country has pretty much remained steady.

But one thing has changed: There's been a fundamental shift in the way we view divorce.

"Divorce is - used to be - just absolutely stigmatized," says Dr. David Popenoe, co-founder of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University in New Jersey. "And you know, divorced women a hundred years ago had to leave town in small town America."

"I would say marriage has changed a lot," Popenoe told Wallace. "Basically, in '60 and earlier, it was sort of an ironclad institution that was held together by law, by religion, by family pressures, by economic dependency. And all those things have withered."

But some things remain the same. Maybe you remember "The Seven Year Itch," Hollywood's classic take on temptation.

We certainly recall Marilyn Monroe's figure, but what about that seven year figure?

"The seven-year itch was essentially a device - a playwright's device," explained Raoul Felder. "But then they started doing studies. And sure enough, what do you think? The average marriage broke up in seven years, when they're gonna be divorced."

Felder ought to know. They call him the shark of split - he's a legendary New York divorce attorney.

"What is it that happens after seven years that you say, 'I'm done'?" Wallace asked him.

"I think it's probably the first few years, there's magic and mystery, and the next couple of years there's buying a home and having children. And now you stagger through to the seventh year and you've had enough. Ain't nothing left," said Felder. "so it's to the lawyer's office."

But Dr. Popenoe says that these days, it's more like the eight-year-itch.

"That eight-year average length of marriage that ends in divorce used to be seven. So it's gone up a little, which is kind of good news. It's lengthened."

But divorce lawyers say there are other critical times for a marriage.

"It's not the only spike. Another spike is at 17 and 18 years when the oldest child is set to go off to school," says Vanden Eykel, a lawyer in Dallas.

"But we have a kind of cruel joke in the business," he said. "And that is that mom gets the house and the last couple of years of high school, and dad gets his secretary."

"I actually think there is a seven year itch," says Los Angeles attorney Stacy Phillips. "Generally, it's more the man, more the working spouse. Even though we have a more egalitarian society now, moms still do stay home - he marries the younger one who he met at work, who looked up to him with those big eyes. And he said, 'She's great cause she works.' And then, she gets pregnant and she stays home, and the cycle repeats itself."

Back at the New York license bureau, Lourdes and Luis Jimenez's marriage presents intriguing statistical probabilities - it's a second marriage for both. That makes it even more likely they'll wind up in divorce court.

Still, they're optimistic.

"We are going to live each day as if it's the first date," says Lourdes, showing off her new ring.

For them, the second go-round may indeed be the charm. As we said, the divorce rate has remained steady since 1980 and even declined a bit.

"One of the big reasons, we think, is because there were many fewer teen marriages in those later years," says Dr. Popenoe. "And teen marriages, which we had an awful lot of early on, are the most prone to divorce."