People in Illinois who decide to divorce may soon see their friends taking a similar path, according to one study. The research, conducted by social scientists at Harvard University, Brown University and the University of California at San Diego, backs up a common social belief that divorce can be “contagious.” Observed anecdotally among many groups of friends, people often see one friend divorce followed by several others. There are a number of reasons why this can occur, partially because people staying in an unhealthy marriage through a sense of inertia are inspired to move forward when seeing their friends’ journeys.

Statistics show that people are 75 percent more likely to divorce after a friend divorces. Even when a friend of a friend divorces, spouses in their social circle are 33 percent more likely to separate themselves. When someone sees a friend divorce, they may be more likely to question their willingness to remain in an unhappy marriage. In addition, newly divorced friends may enjoy a single life with new relationships and interests, and this can be appealing to people who have spent years in an unfulfilling marriage.

Some people who divorce report that their married friends avoid them during this period, perhaps to avoid this supposed social contagion. People with uncomfortable marriages may be more likely to do so, especially if they want to remain in their relationships. However, it is far from a certainty that friends of divorcing people will also divorce. Those with stronger relationships may be prompted to have conversations about how to improve their intimacy and sense of connection.

People can also learn about the legal, financial and practical sides of divorce by witnessing their friends’ separations. A family law attorney can consult with a person thinking about divorce and provide guidance regarding property division, child custody and other key matters.