If a woman who got married and had a child gets divorced, can we call her single?

I searched for the term "single parent" and it seems to reflect the responsibilities of a person rather than their marital status.

  • 2
    What is wrong with "divorced"? This really is the most accurate, language-wise.
    – user3169
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 2:54
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    @user3169 Divorced is not as neutral as single. There are some negative connotations to divorced that single doesn't have. It really depends on what your purpose for mentioning it is - if you want to make a distinction between and never-married person and a divorced person, you couldn't use single.
    – ColleenV
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 2:55
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    OK you should update your question. It is also important to state who or in what kind of situation such words are used. For example, it probably would not be the same if said by a lawyer or the housewife next door.
    – user3169
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 4:17
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    She became single after divorce Commented May 31, 2016 at 4:43
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    "Single" with regards to relationship status (like on a dating web site) might be used differently from "single" with regards to parenting, as in "single parent". As you put in your question, someone could self-identify as a "single parent" even if they were still legally married if they were separated or their spouse had left and was not participating in parenting at all. The phrase "solo parent" might be used instead for that reason. On a dating site, or among friends, saying one is "single" while still technically married would usually be considered immoral deception. Commented May 31, 2016 at 12:47

7 Answers 7


Yes, from language perspective, a person is generally considered "single" in any of the following situations:

  • never married
  • widowed
  • divorced

In some cases the term 'single parent' also applies if the parents are separated, but still married.

If, however you are asking about how legal status affects the terminology, we'd need to know more about the legal jurisdiction involved.

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    Well, it isn't a legal question. It is a word usage question. Laws don't govern English word usage, so there aren't any specific laws that apply to the question of word usage. Commented May 31, 2016 at 2:51
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    @GManNickG - if they aren't single, who is the other person making them a couple? If it's "totally wrong", do you have some sources backing it up? (Although personally, I agree in that I would call a widow a "widow" over "single", since your spouse passed away and, assumedly, your heart is still with them, if that makes sense)
    – BruceWayne
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 20:10
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    @GManNickG Consider the wedding tradition of the bouquet toss. The organizer typically (in my experience, at least) calls for "all single ladies" to participate. This is meant only to exclude married ladies from participating, as the "point" of the game is to divine who will be the next to marry. In fact, all women who have a date with them, however romantically involved they may be, are particularly encouraged to participate. So, "single" does not necessarily mean "not in a relationship of any kind".
    – talrnu
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 20:20
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    @talrnu That is not my experience with the tradition. Of the dozen-or-so weddings I’ve attended in the last couple of years (I’m at that age), my girlfriend-now-fiancee participated in none of the bouquet tosses, and was explicitly discouraged from doing so on a few occasions. Our relationship, which in each case dwarfed in duration those of the newlyweds, was considered to very much not be one that made her eligible for “single” status.
    – KRyan
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 20:26
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    @KRyan - that's interesting, I've been to a dozen or so weddings in the last few years and all non-married women are encouraged to participate in the bouquet toss - even women in a relationship or with a date. The idea is whoever catches the bouquet is the next to be married...so why wouldn't women in a relationship participate?
    – BruceWayne
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 20:31

"Single" only describes their current relationship status.

"Single parent" only describes who looks after the child. It's perfectly possible to be a "single parent" and still be married, if the other person is no longer around and you haven't (yet) divorced them. (Or incidentally if your religion means that you cannot divorce them.)

"Divorced" or "widowed" only describe the state of historical relationships, and are completely unrelated to your current relationship status.

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    Well, if a woman was introduced to me as "widowed", I would be just so slightly shocked to see her husband :-)
    – gnasher729
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 20:10
  • Agreed with gnasher, "divorced" and "widowed" absolutely apply to the current relationship status - they describe how a person became single. A remarried widow is her former husband's widow, yes, but she's no longer widowed. Also, I've never heard the term "single parent" used to describe a married parent. Even if a child is exclusively cared for by one of their two married parents, the one caring for the child is not a single parent. The implication of "single parent" is that such a parent has the tough job of caring for their child without support of a spouse (even if only financial).
    – talrnu
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 20:14
  • @talrnu Graham is referring to people who are separated, but not yet divorced (or perhaps never will be) - but are nonetheless not cohabiting nor sharing responsibility of childcare.
    – Joe
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 21:17
  • @gnasher729 In what way does the OP suggest you'd see her husband? The question is specifically in terms of the woman's relationship status.
    – Graham
    Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 9:34
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    I think whether divorced or widowed is your current or historical status really depends on the context. It can be either. If someone is filling out a form, typically you don't have the option of checking both divorced and married. If divorced ONLY meant "divorced at least once in the past" in ever context, there would be different options.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 13:26

Quote from Single Parent Statistics:

The assumption that "most" single mothers are were single from the outset is false. Of the mothers who are custodial parents:

* 44.2% are currently divorced or separated

* 36.8% have never been married

* 18% are married (In most cases, these numbers represent women who have remarried.)

* 1.1% were widowed

Of the fathers who are custodial parents:

* 53.5% are divorced or separated

* 24.7% have never married

Definitely, single ≠ never married.


As others have noted, it depends on context, but generally "single" is understood to include divorced and widowed.

When we talk about "single parents", I think this almost always includes divorced and widowed. The point of the phrase "single parent" is to say that this person is raising the child or children by him/herself. There are all sorts of difficulties in doing this, starting with how you hold down a job while also taking care of children. How you got to this situation is ... maybe "irrelevant" isn't the right word, if we're talking about the wisdom or morality of your choices, but certainly how you got there doesn't change the difficulties you face.

If you're filling out a form, I presume you pick from the options offered. Like, I'm divorced. When I fill out a form and the choices are "married" or "single", I choose "single". If it offers "divorced" as a separate option, than of course I check that.


It's possible to be single and married at the same time, in that "single" is usually a social description of a person who might go on dates and might like to find a new partner, and "married" can be a legal term applied to a person who is separated but not yet divorced. So it must be possible for a divorced woman not to want to be known in social terms as single, possibly if she has already found a new partner and is prevented from marrying him only because of her own religion forbidding re-marriage. Another possibility would be a couple who divorced in law in order to reduce their tax bills, but who still live together and have no intention of separating. In these cases and others, "not married" does not imply "single" in the everyday conversational sense.

As ever, context is really important!

  • 1
    This is misleading. If someone describes themselves as "single" and later I discover they are in fact married, I'd simply say they lied. Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 11:07

1 Marital status (relative to wife/husband)

  • unmarried
  • married
  • divorced
  • widowed

Separated is not a marital status, it means legally still married though not living with husband/wife.

People other than married may be considered as having single marital status.

2 Parental status (relative to descendants)

A mono parental family has just one parent. So people other than married have single parental status.


Divorced isn't (or shouldn't be) a state of being. Divorced is a verb. "I GOT divorced, thus, I AM single". When forms ask me if I a single, widowed or divorced, the accurate answer is 'single'. The fact that I was once married is none of anyone's business.

  • Do you have some references to support this? As a native speaker, I don't agree.
    – user91988
    Commented Oct 22, 2018 at 17:39

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