An analysis of marital histories from World Fertility Survey data in Colombia, Panama, and Peru indicates a high level of union dissolution: the probabilities of a first union ending by separation within twenty years of the onset of union equal .27, .40, and .18 in the three countries respectively. Dissolution probabilities are especially high among women with young ages at first union and among women residing in urban areas. For all subgroups studied, consensual unions are characterized by several times the risk of separation of legal marriages. Consensual unions are especially frequent among women in rural areas, women with little education and women who enter unions at young ages. The different prevalence of consensual unions among the different subgroups affects the associations between union stability and various correlates so that it becomes essential to investigate the factors affecting union stability for both consensual unions and legal marriages. In spite of high dissolution rates, remarriage rates in all three countries are also high, as are the percentages of time spent in a union. Hence, the potential effects of voluntary disruption of unions on fertility appear to be modest.

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