Divorce in Malaysia: Historical Trends and Contemporary Issues

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Gavin W. Jones


Divorce rates in Malaysia have risen substantially in the first two decades of the 21st century. The main upsurge was between 2007 and 2010, after which the rates levelled off. The Muslim divorce rate remains at a level more than double that of non-Muslims, though the trends in divorce have moved in the same direction for both groups. East Malaysia has its own patterns. Muslim divorce rates in Sabah are only half those in Peninsular Malaysia, as are non-Muslim divorce rates in both Sabah and Sarawak. Although information is not available for Malaysia about the proportion of Muslim divorces initiated by wives, for both Indonesia and Singapore, more than two thirds of Muslim divorces are initiated by the wife. Clearly, many similar forces are influencing divorce for both Muslims and non-Muslims in the predominantly urban populations of these three countries. “Modern divorce” is related to the pressures of urban living; pressures of balancing work responsibilities and household arrangements when both partners are working; decreasing tolerance for remaining in an unsatisfactory marriage; and increasing community acceptance of divorce in such circumstances. As similar pressures have been experienced by both Muslim and non-Muslim populations, the tendency for Muslim and non-Muslim divorce rates in Malaysia to move in parallel directions is not surprising.


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