Marriage in the United States can be both a religious covenant and a legal contract. Different religions have different views about what constitutes marriage and what grounds, if any, exist for divorce or anullment. I won't go into the nitty-gritty of all these theological and doctrinal matters in this post. For the time being, I'd like to focus on the legal aspects of marriage, or more precisely, the legal aspects of dissolving a marriage contract. Specifically, I would like to address the issue of "no-fault divorce," which I believe could rather be rightly termed "divorce on demand."
Before continuing, I should probably mention that I have a personal interest in the presence of no-fault divorce in our country's legal system; it is something that has dramatically and aversely affected my life. After twenty-seven years of marriage, my father left my mother. I will not give the reasons here, as this is a public blog, but suffice it to say that the blame was not on her side. Technically, New York State (where my parents were married and divorced) does not permit no-fault divorce; it is one of only three states that maintains this stance, requiring that both spouses consent to the divorce. However, the widespread presence of no-fault divorce in our country led my mother to believe that she didn't have a choice in the matter. Technically, as my father had moved away to a state that allowed no-fault divorce, she didn't have a choice; he could simply divorce her through the legal system of his new home state without her consent. My father repeatedly refused to even consider counselling, though my mother attempted for three years to save their marriage alone. Moreover, my father wanted to sever ties "cleanly," as he put it, walking away without giving her a penny, though she had sacrificed her career for his and remained at home and worked part-time for many years to take care of me. A fine thank you for over a quarter-century of love and sacrifice. This is the legacy of divorce on demand.
The worst of it to me, their only child, was that hardly anyone thought anything of this! No-fault divorce has become so prevalent in our society that my father's pathetic excuses of "It just didn't work out," seemed to satisfy the majority of our friends and family. Those of us who opposed his actions and tried to make him see reason were ridiculed for being closed-minded and judgmental.
Many people oppose overturning no-fault divorce because they say that the government should not have jurisdiction in private affairs. This attitude fails to see things in a true light. Two consenting adults enter into a marriage contract--a binding, legal agreement, undertaken mutually by two parties and conducted without the interference of the government, except to ratify the contract. Years (or months or weeks) later, one party, under no-fault divorce, chooses to reneg on that contract; the governement then steps in and tells the faithful party that their contract is no longer binding, thanks very much, have a nice life. That sounds like governement interference to me.
In a system that would not allow no-fault divorce, a spouse could still seek non-consentual divorce in the case of mental or physical abuse, abandonment of a year or more, adultery, or if the other spouse spends more than three years in prison. We are not discussing the issue of victimized women trapped in abusive relationships. We are not talking about marriage where things are "broken" beyond repair. We are talking about a consenting adult who entered into a binding legal contract and later wanted to back out with no reprecussions. If this were the state of business contracts in our country, there would be an outcry! Where is the outcry on behalf of the men, women, and children who are victims of no-fault divorce?
Frankly, with no-fault divorce ravaging American families, I don't know how anyone can even speak politcally of the "sanctity of marriage" with a straight face anymore. For that matter, why do we even have civil marriage, when one party can simply decide they are tired of the arrangement and reneg without cause or reprecussion, except maybe to lose out a little in the alimony department? It's absurd. Why bother denying gay couples the right to marry when any two adults of opposite sexes can just walk into city hall, sign a marriage contract, and then decide the next week that they're bored of it and don't want it anymore. What is the point of civil marriage in this current condition?
Tellingly, this is one issue where radical feminists are agreeing with pro-family advocates. Of course, NOW's stance against no-fault divorce stems from its assertion that no-fault divorce removes financial "bargaining chips" from a woman's table. This is not the issue I would like to stand on. But, there are many injustices that occur due to no-fault divorce, and women are frequently the vicitims of no-fault divorce. Many such women have sacrificed strong careers to stay at home and care for children or to further their husband's career instead, under the assumption that their marriage contract was considered binding on both sides and that they would benefit from her support of her husband later in life. Come middle age: the kids move out; she's not so attractive anymore, and hubby finds someone else who can "please" him more. So, he divorces her. She has no say. She has no rights. She is, in all reality, abandoned after decades of sacrifice. This is wrong. Any way you slice it, it's wrong.
It isn't just women who suffer, though. Members of the father's rights movement have advocated that grounds for divorce must be required in cases where children are involved. It has been argued that wives who instigate no-fault divorce are often granted custody of the children, and the abandoned husbands are then required to pay child support while bereft of the children they would have wanted to keep custody of. This is without even mentioning the damage done to the children of couples that have been destroyed by no-fault divorce!
Sure, no-fault divorce has drastically lowered the rates of perjury in divorce court proceedings; that is, after all, why it was instated in the first place. But, has it done any good? On the contrary, I believe it has done great harm. The system is so stream-lined now that a defaulting spouse is able to carry out a divorce in a couple of months--not even enough time to stop and think about the reprecussions of these attrocious actions. Everytime someone leaves their spouse because they "fell out of love" or "things didn't work out," real people suffer and, on a larger social level, the institution of marriage is demeaned, undermined, and spat upon.
Personally, I would love to see these United States overturn no-fault divorce and reinstate the laws as they were before the 1970s, where divorce was only permitted by proven breech of the marriage contract. It is my belief that if no-fault divorce continues to prevail, it should at least by required that any person seeking such a divorce would be made to undergo a reasonable number of couples' counselling sessions with their spouse. I believe that many, many marriages would be saved even from this, which seems to me the most minimal of efforts when considering such a momentous decision.
There are, of course, religious reasons to oppose no-fault divorce, among other attacks against the sanctity of marriage. I hope that what I have said here provides reason enough to believe that it should, likewise, be opposed for strictly political and civil reasons, as well. Divorce on demand undermines marriage. It has destroyed countless families. It has left scores of abandoned wives stranded without support in their twilight years. It has created more than one generation of youth who view marriage as a joke: an excuse to have a big, expensive party but which really doesn't mean anything. This is the legacy of no-fault divorce. It is a travesty, and it should be stopped.