Conceptions of Divorce
Is marriage no more than the result of voluntary agreements between two private individuals? Is the lack of detail concerning marriage arrangements causing all the divorce debates? Does divorce cause problems or solve them? Why is marriage such a religious experience and divorce such a legal experience? Why do marriages take place under the eyes of God while divorces take place under the eyes of the law?
I believe that it was because of my parents’ divorce that I have chosen to tackle such a controversial topic. In many ways, I am in search of my own opinion. My parents divorced through the no-fault system. My dad decided it was time to move on to another life I guess. The no-fault divorce is a form of divorce granted without blame being sought or established. Sometimes, I try to think of how my life would have turned out if they were still together. I wonder if life would be any better. However, there are other days when I thank God for putting me through such troubling times; without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
What troubles me with marriage/divorce issues is that one is dealt with while the other lies on the floor. Today, we discuss marriage, and we discuss divorce, but never both at the same time. Should we push premarital counseling, or should we make divorce harder? Why must we discuss one or the other and not both?
There are so many questions concerning marriage and divorce, and that is why I’m writing to you. I hope to answer some questions you may have. Though you may not form an opinion about no-fault divorce, you should finish this article with a little satisfaction, knowing that you’ve seen both sides of the issue.
There are many people who have spoken out about no-fault divorce and family relationships, but I will focus on two. In “The Divorce Debate,” Maggie Gallagher, a scholar at the Institute for American Values, tries to answer the question: “What, if anything, can we do about the fact that at least half of our marriages fail?” In another article, “The Making of a Divorce Culture,” Barbara Dafoe Whitehead discusses the idea that, “Divorce has become an American way of life only as a result of recent and revolutionary change.”
I was very turned-off by Gallagher’s article. First, it starts off with what the author thinks should be a shared assumption; the assumption stated that divorce is harmful for children. Not everyone believes that. She goes on by asking, “What……can we do?” Gallagher continues with her article by putting down other states because of their divorce stipulations. She says that they are not working. Yes, she did back that statement up with information from Judith Wallerstein’s book, Second Chance, and statistics from the Journal of Marriage and Family, but they were buried
between the many instances in which she shared the views of her opposition.
The way she recognized the reasoning behind the “speedy spouse disposal” or “delayed backlash” was a nice touch. Unfortunately, Gallagher was so involved with trying to show the other side of things, she forgot to give the reasoning behind her own ideas. Through the entire article, she used negative words or phrases to express her feelings on divorce; they include: harmful, delayed backlash, speedy spouse removal, eliminating, marital wrongdoing, dissolve a marriage, bitter conflict, unhappy marriages, bleak times, punishments, messy and irrelevant, and torment. However, she never once suggested a solution for the problem of divorce. How can one argue with the ideas of others, if that person has no argument of their own?
After reading the article, I was pretty confident that the author had not personally been through a divorce of her own. This alone, caused me to question her. I felt that a more personal article involving some of her own experiences would have been more convincing. I realized that she was writing with a logical approach, but I believe an emotional one would have been better. Divorce is a topic that touches every person in so many different ways. If the article would have reached to the heart, it would have been more persuasive.
Though I am unhappy with the way the topic was approached, I am sure that the essay was not quickly written. Their was a lot of research involved in this article. Gallagher explained how different states came up with different solutions for divorce. She discussed the no-fault divorce and the waiting period before a divorce. Her statistic was a great bonus.
Divorce is certainly a great topic for debate as we head into the new millennium. There are many assumptions made about divorce, both shared and unshared. Some people believe that divorce is always a bad thing, no matter what the situation. Others believe it’s a matter of what is best for the children (if there are any). Gallagher challenges the assumption that “no-fault [will]…….remake divorce into a kinder, gentler institution.
Whitehead’s article was more impressive. In the second paragraph of the article, Whitehead uses a set of statistics to point out how “divorce [has] moved from the margins to the mainstream of American life in the space of three decades.” However, statistics are not her only form of support. In her fifth paragraph, she starts to explain the new ideas that have come along with the revolution. She begins to explain how people today believe that there is a “moral obligation to look after oneself.” She elaborates on the statement through several of the following paragraphs. Whitehead discusses “divorce as the working out of an inner life experience.” In paragraph sixteen, she writes about no-fault divorce. Around paragraph 22, divorce is looked at as a cause for some the economical changes in society. She ends her article with this statement: “Divorce in America is not unique, but what we have made of divorce is uniquely American.”
The essay made several assumptions. One assumption she expanded on was one that discussed how society is becoming more in-tune with the idea of self-gratification. Though not everyone may agree, I do. More and more people are worrying about themselves and what will happen to them in specific situations, rather than worrying about what will happen to everyone involved. One of the more recognizable assumptions made was one discussing how divorce has hurt children. This seems to be an assumption shared by many. Children of broken homes are deeply affected by divorce.
The main question I want to pursue is this: “Is no-fault divorce an easy way out, or is a healthy way of resolving difficult marriages?” In the article “Abolish No-Fault Divorce?,” Representative Dalman expresses her position when she states, “Two people take the vows of marriage, but under no-fault divorce laws, only one can dissolve the commitment. It’s easier to end a marriage than it is to break a contract for buying a household appliance. Disposable marriage cheapens the commitment and degrades our vows of fidelity and lifelong love.” Divorce rates across the nation have soared since the implementation of no-fault divorce standards in the early 1970s. (Ager 1) Dalman continues her argument by following with, “Prevention is the best solution to any problem. While an educational program can’t prevent all divorce, it does lay the groundwork for stronger unions. Families educated about problem-solving skills have a better chance for successful relationships.”
Ager has a different view. She says, “Human relationships are fragile and prone to disease. Not all marriages deserve to be saved, and I’d argue that divorce has redeemed more human spirits than it has doomed.” She then goes on to ask: “….what about encouraging women to become financially self-sufficient before they become mothers? What about keeping better track of dead-beat dads? What about government-financed day care? What about training husbands and wives to enter divorce, for the sake of their children, not as a war but as a creative project for change?” These are all very good questions that must be considered when forming opinions on the no-fault divorce debate. One section of Ager’s article really caught my eye. It is as follows:
“Even now, in households were divorce is taboo, children grow up learning the ways of love from moms and dads who never embrace, who rarely laugh together, who fail to demonstrate that arguments can end with compromise and forgiveness. These moms and dads become role models for bitterness, resignation or both. This is good for the kids? This teaches them commitment? No wonder commitment gets a bad rap, promising dullness and ache. Can mandated premarital counseling…….help keep two people happily together until death? Chances are slim…….Premarital counseling can’t hurt,
Not only do individuals have opinions, but each state has come up with some ideas of their own. In “States Put Minor Speed Bumps In Divorce Path: No-Fault Backlash,” Ann Tyson discusses the decisions of some states. Several states require mandatory parenting classes and plans. In Iowa, for instance, it is required that parents take classes so that they may better understand the practical and emotional impact of divorce on children. In Michigan, it may be required to submit detailed parenting plans that cover issues such as visitation, discipline, and education. (Tyson 1-2)
Delaying divorce is another topic discussed in Tyson’s article. Bills in Georgia, Oklahoma, and Idaho have required that marriage counseling and long waiting periods take place before divorce. In some states it is required to take a series of one-hour counseling sessions before divorce, while in other states, a one-year waiting period has been put into effect. (Tyson 2)
Maybe the smart choice is strengthening marriage bonds. Tom McMillen, director of the Rocky Mountain Family Council in Denver, Colorado, said, “Marriage is not just a lifestyle choice, it’s a critical institution that allows our culture to move forward.” Some states such as Minnesota and Michigan agree with McMillen and have instituted premarital counseling, rather than pre-divorce counseling.
We have to decide what is more important to our society. Research shows that divorced women suffer a drop in income ranging on average from 30 percent to 70 percent. More than half of all female-headed households with children live in poverty, compared with only 10 percent of all other families with children. Medical experts say that men who divorce are to experience greater health problems and higher rates of suicide than married men. Are these things devastating to our society, or do we need to look at the other side of things? Without no-fault divorce, many people may become trapped in abusive relationships. There may be an increase in desertion. One spouse may be lead to use bribes or threats to win the consent of the other to end marriage, thus creating the return of blackmail under the old fault-based system. (Tyson 1-3)
Maybe the topic isn’t the narrow one we perceive it to be. Maybe the topic evolves more around family itself. Midge Decter does an excellent job of discussing family in her article, “The Madness of the American Family.” She explains how a family compares with a rock, and not the Garden of Eden. A rock, can be far from a comfortable place to be. “But,” she says, “living on a rock keeps you out of the swamps…..The most dangerous of these swamps is a place of limitless and willfully defined individual freedom. The land of limitless freedom, as so many among us are now beginning to discover, turns out to be nothing other than the deep muck and mire of Self.” She continues, “The only escape from the swamp of Self is the instinctual and lifelong engagement in the fate of others.” Decter discusses how being in a family may not make you happy, but it makes you human. She goes on:
“Together, marriage and parenthood are the rock on which human existence stands….[and] No matter how ardently a young man and woman believe they wish to spend their lives with one another, and no matter how enthusiastically they greet the knowledge that they are to have a baby, they do not undertake either of these things in full knowledge of the commitment they are undertaking……they do not know that they are embarked upon a long, long, and sometimes arduous and even unpleasant journey.” (Decter 1-19)
Marriage, family, and divorce, are three controversial topics that each person must deal with in their lifetime. The great thing about them is that we are each allowed to have our own opinions about them. Maybe you haven’t picked sides, and maybe you haven’t heard enough to make a stand, but hopefully this article has got you thinking. I myself have not yet chosen a position on the topic. No-fault divorce has such a complicated base. Each marital problem causes rise to newfound solutions concerning divorce. Every person comes up with their own opinions. Each state has its laws, its bills, and its proposals to solve the problems concerning marriage and divorce. The nation finds such problems floating above its head, waiting for someone, or something, to take hold and decrease its power to control the people within it. Nevertheless, Dector reminds us not to get frustrated about such topics when she says, “All this should be a very simple matter; God knows, it’s been going on long enough. So why have we fallen into such a state of confusion?”
Dalman, and Susan Ager. “Abolish No-Fault Divorce?” Divorce Online. 14 February 1996
Decter, Midge. “The Madness of the American Family” Policy Review. September-October 1998
Tyson, Ann Scott. “States Put Minor Speed Bumps in Divorce Path: No-Fault Backlash” 10 September 1996 (http:/www.rmfc.org/newsitem.html)