No-Fault Divorce: The End of Marriage?
- Monday, June 01, 2009
In many cases, the reality is even worse. In effect, no-fault divorce means that the courts now assist the violator of marriage vows. Any spouse can now demand a divorce for any reason and be assured that the courts will award the divorce -- and will often grant disproportionate favor to the party seeking the divorce.
As Judy Parejko, author of Stolen Vows, argues, no-fault divorce means that legislators created an "automatic outcome" in issues of divorce. "A defendant is automatically found 'guilty' of irreconcilable differences and is not allowed a defense," Parejko notes.
Researcher Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, author of the influential book, The Divorce Culture, points to the therapeutic seduction of the culture as a contributing factor. "According to therapeutic precepts," she explains, "the fault for marital breakup must be shared, even when one spouse unilaterally seeks a divorce."
In other words, no-fault divorce laws actually assume that both parties are equally at fault, since no party could be innocent. The perverse assumption inherent in this argument is that if any individual is unhappy, someone else must necessarily be at fault. Once no-fault divorce became a reality, spouses found themselves simply informed of the fact that their marriage was effectively over. Many of these spouses were not even aware that the marriage was in trouble -- and trouble is not even necessary.
Why did all this happen? How could an institution as fundamental and basic as marriage become transformed in less than a decade's time? Baskerville insists that no-fault divorce laws were not demanded by the public. "No popular clamor to dispense with divorce restrictions preceded their passage; no public outrage at any perceived injustice provided the impetus; no public debate was ever held in the media." As Baskerville summarizes: "In retrospect, these laws can be seen as one of the boldest social experiments in history. The result effectively abolished marriage as a legal contract. As a result, it's no longer possible to form a binding agreement to create a family."
Marriage is now compromised to the extent that it is difficult even to engage this culture with an honest discussion about marriage and divorce.
Divorce--once a matter of shame and tragedy -- is now celebrated as a positive good. Barbara Dafoe Whitehead has documented the rise of what she calls "expressive divorce." Spouses simply assert a right to self-interest and self-actualization as a sufficient basis for abandoning a husband or wife, and even children. The "rights talk" lamented by Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon now replaces serious moral discourse, and those seeking a divorce can simply claim a supposed "right" to divorce without any basis for justification.
A basic dishonesty on the question of divorce pervades our political culture. Baskerville cites Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm as referring to divorce as a couple's "private decision." Granholm's comments came as she vetoed a bill intended to reform divorce law in her state. The danger and dishonesty of referring to divorce as a couple's "private decision" is evident in the fact that this supposedly private decision imposes a reality, not only on the couple, but also on children and the larger society. Indeed, the "private decision" is really not made by a couple at all -- but only by any spouse demanding a divorce.
Perversely, the parent who demands the divorce "is also the one most likely to retain custody" of children, Baskerville laments. He suggests that no-fault divorce "amounts to a public seizure of the innocent spouse's children and invasion of his or her parental rights, perpetrated by our governments and using our tax dollars."
As if all that isn't bad enough, divorce has now become an industry. Some lawyers and law firms specialize in divorce practice, and Baskerville describes the legal divorce business as "a multibillion-dollar industry" in which a vast number of persons hold a vested interest. He writes: "The political interests that abolish marriage in the first place have only grown more wealthy and powerful off the system they created," adding: "Divorce and custody are the cash cow of the judiciary and directly employ a host of federal, state, and local officials, plus private hangers-on. More largely, the societal ills left by broken families create further employment and power for even larger armies of officials. So entrenched has divorce become within our political economy, and so diabolical is its ability to insinuate itself throughout our political culture, that even critics seem to have developed a stake in having something to bemoan. Hardly anyone has an incentive to bring it under control."
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