The number of married couples choosing to divorce dropped dramatically last year to 10,511 from 20,809 in 1999, according to the Federal Statistics Office. While the drop might appear to be a resounding vote for marriage, experts said it was mainly due to a change in the Swiss divorce law.
"The considerable reduction in the number of divorces in 2000 was not due to a change in couples' marriages, but the new divorce law that was introduced in January last year," the statistics office said in a statement on Wednesday.
The basic change in the law was "from the principle of fault or culpability, to the principle of more or less mutual acceptance of a final breakdown in the marriage by the couple themselves," Walter Zingg, head of the Population Evolution department at the statistics office, told swissinfo.
Zingg said that on the one hand, the change made divorce easier because when both spouses agreed to end their marriage, it took less time for judges to examine the case.
However, the report found that lawyers needed a lot of time to draw up a mutual agreement which made obtaining a divorce more difficult and time consuming. The problems experienced by Swiss courts when implementing the new law were a further reason for the dramatic figures.
When there is no mutual agreement to divorce, the couple must undergo a four-year separation period before the judge is allowed to divorce them. "In special situations, the judge is able to reduce this period," Zingg said.
In 2000, 85 per cent of divorced couples mutually agreed to end their marriages, while a further four per cent partially agreed.
"In this case, the judge has to complete the agreement and decide on issues such as custody of the children, child support and how the pension will be divided," Zingg said.
Divorce rate may rise
The spectacular drop in the Swiss divorce rate is unequalled in the last 30 years, Zingg said. "We have had a constant rise year on year in the number of couples ending their relationship."
Zingg said 2000 was an exceptional year and the government predicts that "the normalisation of the judicial procedures would result in a rise in the number of judgements from 2001 on."
by Samantha Tonkin