Sunday, May 27, 2012

No Fault Divorce, Marriage's True Enemy

It’s a common position of social conservatives, especially in the media, that gay marriage is a threat to marriage and will destroy the family and society as we know it vicariously. But no-fault divorce, established in America as early as the 70s and finalized in all states in 1985, has had more demonstrable and probably correlative and causative effects on marriage and divorce rates in the last few “generations” than gay marriage has in the last 10 years since it was first legalized in the Netherlands. The most obvious reason why it has infested and corrupted marriage and the family is because people don’t have the basic restrictions on divorce law that existed prior: where you had to find some fault with the partner in order to separate. When people don’t take marriage seriously and can legally marry someone and then separate in less than 24 hours for a mere caprice, it’s no surprise fewer people give the institution the respect it deserves and are basically lying through their teeth at their vows or don’t realize that marriage is more than just shared property and some tax breaks, it’s a commitment for a lifetime that should not be taken lightly. There are at least two perspectives from which divorce is criticized, though not always to the same extent. But no-fault divorce goes too far and I think both sides that could find fault with divorce to one extent or another would see this law as repugnant even to the mere secular purpose of marriage: maintaining kinship and intimacy between family and couple respectively and encouraging the values of fidelity and monogamy for all those in and planning for marriage.

Religiously, divorce is only permitted in a few circumstances, if we consider the Christian perspective, which is fairly common in America. If a spouse is unfaithful and caught in the act, dies, or willingly leaves the spouse because they do not believe in God anymore, then the divorce is considered valid and justified, roughly speaking. And the only time someone can remarry is if their spouse dies. There are issues in Jewish divorce law, since it appears traditionally a woman can’t initiate a divorce and a man can refuse to out of spite. In Islam, divorce is permitted by both men and women with waiting periods or court proceedings respectively, though it is considered the most hateful thing that is also lawful, for similar reasons that Jews would try to maintain civil harmony in their marriage, even if they don’t think they can maintain it for personal reasons of one form or another. There’s always the admonition from Jesus in the gospels, particularly Matthew 19:6, “So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate." The Catholic Church takes it so seriously than even an annulment, which makes the man and woman not obligated to live together, does not separate them in the eyes of God. As mentioned before, the only way remarriage is acceptable by Catholic standards in particular is if one of the spouses dies. Infidelity does not break the bond of marriage, though it is grounds for separation. Many other Christian denominations will permit divorce, though they could consider it problematic to remarry. A lot of it depends on interpretations of both Jesus and Paul’s thoughts on marriage, since Paul is noted to have said that it is better not to be married unless you cannot resist temptations of the flesh and the like. Being bound to a woman is almost seen as a distraction from worshipping God. But the positions tend to range on a spectrum of condemnation of divorce in itself, condemnation not of divorce in the sense of annulment, but of divorce and remarriage and then permission of divorce and remarriage within limited constraints of infidelity or if an unbelieving spouse calls for separation and then permission of it under more general grounds and remarriage as well.

The more secular perspective on divorce is a bit limited, since the legal standards for it have changed. The original law in the U.S. appears to have been the form that required finding culpable fault in one of the partners, which was more than merely emotional distance or the like. Physical abuse, adultery, abandonment or other felonies fell under this standard. The legal opposition to this divorce law was on the grounds that there shouldn’t have to be such obfuscating or otherwise ad hoc justifications made to determine divorce proceedings. There is disagreement in that this just involves the government more in determining how marriages can end, but that’s not as pertinent to the topic at hand. There are alleged problems with no-fault divorce that come down to property and such. One partner can be left high and dry when the other leaves them because of prior arrangements, though a lot of this may be preventable by making more equitable contracts beforehand. The biggest issue that can be brought up for no-fault divorce being counterintuitive to marriage without invoking a bond made by God through a sacrament would be that this can create a habit of detachment that leads to separations that do not encourage communication between spouses. If one side decides to leave and doesn’t even have to prove fault, then the divorce leaves bad feelings behind because the other side may have wanted to go into marriage counseling. If you can’t resolve your feelings together, then the notion of commitment and loyalty to one another in the marital state seems to fall apart in society’s perspective at large. I would hope people deciding to get married have thought long and hard about it, gotten counseling or practice in some beforehand perhaps even cohabitated with limitations to see how they interact together. If that’s done, no fault divorce can be avoided from the start by encouraging good marriage habits.

In either case, no-fault divorce is either taking marriage to a level where commitment to the sacred nature of it is lost or even adhering to basic standards of marriage as something that binds people together for a lifetime is lacking. When you don’t have to even find fault with your spouse, but get tired of them, and the legal system supports you in that decision, society has gotten to a point where jokes about Britney Spears or Kim Kardashian being married for less than a week and getting divorced in at least one case within 24 hours aren’t funny anymore. Quite the contrary: in hindsight, they reflect badly on popular culture. Marriage isn’t even a commitment anymore to people; it’s an excuse to have sex in the eyes of one’s religious taboos against premarital relations. Beyond that, if you don’t want to be married anymore, if you just don’t feel it, you don’t need to communicate, you just have to get a divorce, no questions asked. I hate to sound like a ranting family values sort of right wing pundit, but this sort of thing is far more damaging in the ideas about marriage it establishes. Children aren’t even a concern here, families aren’t relevant. No one matters but whichever spouse decides they don’t want to be married anymore and goes through with the process. If that’s what love is perceived as by the next generation, I fear for society much more than if 5% of our population that happen to be attracted to the same sex are permitted to be called married and actually encourages monogamy or other values of marriage that can be discerned by observing couples in varying stages of wedded “bliss”. The real destruction to marriage comes not so much in changing the definition, but in making it obsolete. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

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