Between 2010 and 2011 there was a five per cent increase in the divorce rate. According to the Judiciary Annual Report 2010-2011, there were 2,857 new divorce cases filed, up from 2,731 in the 2009-2010 law term. When Chief Justice Ivor Archie revealed the statistics at the launch of the new term in September it caused a stir, with many heads of religious organisations and family counsellors speaking publicly on the topic.
However, Central Statistical Office data on divorce available on their Web site show that the steepest increase in the divorce rate since 1986 occurred between 2004 and 2005 when the number of divorces jumped from 1,852 to 2,785. Between 1986 and 2004 the number of divorces fluctuated between 1,074 to 1,852. Between 2005 and 2011 the rate has fluctuated.
Canon John Rohim of St Michael's & All Angels Anglican Church in Diego Martin told the T&T Guardian he observed an increase in the number of married couples seeking his counsel or experiencing difficulty.
In a telephone interview Rohim said the modern lifestyle was contributing to the destruction of the traditional family. "Everybody is busy. We rush to work, rush to eat, rush to bed and there is no communication and no quality time. We are living in a time where progress brings hurt and destroys the family as well," he said.
Rohim added: "There is a devaluation of the relationship between husband and wife taking place. The thing about love is that it's an ongoing process of loving and caring and I feel we have devalued intimacy."
Analysing the cause of the increase in divorce may be more difficult than meets the eye. However, Dr Patricia Elder, director of Elder Associates Ltd said caution needs to be taken when assessing human behaviour. "You can't just look at one piece of data and generalise for the entire population," she told the T&T Guardian in a telephone interview. "The reasons for the divorce would affect why people are getting divorced. Not all divorces are equal and you need to look at other variables to understand what the statistics are saying."
Attorney Farai Hove Masaisai of Hove & Associates said the main ground for divorces he handles is behaviour. "This means the person applying for divorce finds it unbearable to live with their partner and these behaviours do include domestic violence," he said.
Masaisai believed the increase in the crime rate can be one contributing factor. "We live in a society in which the crime is very high. People are now violent without fear and this translates into the home and the society in which we live has affected the breakdown in the family structure."
Although the report showed a decrease in the number of domestic violence cases, during 2009-2010 there were 12,106 reports while in 2010-2011 there were 11,984. The number of reports has been steadily increasing since 2005 when there were 9950 reports of domestic violence cases. In 2006-2007 there were 10,785 and in 2008-2009 there were 11,629.
In a recent address to the Family Planning Association of T&T, Dr Edward Greene, UN Special Envoy for HIV in the Caribbean said studies have shown that one in three women in the Caribbean on average will experience domestic violence. He added that country studies for Antigua and Barbuda, Guyana, British Virgin Islands and Suriname suggest that between 20 and 69 per cent of women in intimate relationships have been victims of domestic violence.
Marriage and family counsellor Noeline Husbands said in the past two years she has noticed an increase in the number of married clients she assists. According to Husbands, the main problem is usually infidelity. However, she does not think this means monogamy is a thing of the past.
"Previously I think people would have had the moral values that marriage was a commitment. People are more willing to break that commitment these days," she said. "There isn't that spiritual commitment and there are so many opportunities for unfaithfulness. People are no longer willing to fight for a marriage that isn't working for them."
She added that a lack of understanding of what marriage is meant to be also exacerbates the issue. "People have expectations of marriage that could be unrealistic so that if the person isn't meeting my needs I could do better and I think its a whole break down of the family system. People no longer understand the role of husband or wife, they don't understand it as a primary relationship."
Rohim noted that there was a lack of serious preparation for marriage not only on the part of couples but the marriage officers as well. "For some institutions, marriage is a business but as a marriage officer you have a responsibility to spend time with these people preparing them for this very important move and I don't think that is happening in a lot of cases."