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Get married, stay married? No fault divorce under fire

Gay marriage supporters have argued for a while that traditionalists would be better putting their energy into shoring up traditional marriage rather than opposing same sex unions. Some state legislators are now doing just that, putting no fault divorce in the policy crosshairs.

Scott Keyes at the Washington Post reports that "socially conservative politicians have been quietly trying to make it harder for couples to get divorced. In recent years, lawmakers in more than a dozen states have introduced bills imposing longer waiting periods before a divorce is granted, mandating counseling courses or limiting the reasons a couple can formally split. States such as Arizona, Louisiana and Utah have already passed such laws, while others such as Oklahoma and Alabama are moving to do so."

Amanda Marcotte at Slate calls this an "alarming trend."

"The hope is that by making divorce a hassle, or forcing couples to really think about what divorce means," Marcotte writes, "the government can encourage/make more couples give up on the idea and recommit themselves to marriage. This is, of course, not the government's job. But also, by artificially elongating the divorce process, the state simply creates more time for all the petty, embittered bickering that divorce tends to cause, as anyone who's actually ever been through a divorce, or known anyone else who has divorced, or is the child of divorce can tell you.

"A cooling-off period is just more time for adults to squabble over who gets the lamps and chairs, and try to assign blame for the relationship's demise. It's the children who end up suffering, as marriage historian Stephanie Coontz argues, telling Keyes that mothers and fathers are 'more likely to parent amicably if they haven’t been locked into a long separation process.'"

So conservatives get flummoxed coming and going, argues Rod Dreher at the American Conservative.

“If you social conservatives really cared about marriage, you wouldn’t worry about fighting gay marriage, but rather fight the heterosexual divorce rate,” Dreher writes, paraphrasing a popular meme.

"I know, I know," Dreher concludes. "Amanda Marcotte doesn’t speak for every progressive in America. But if you decided that most liberals don’t really care about social conservatives being consistent, they really only care about them shutting up and letting people do what they want to with their sex lives and their marriages, no matter who or what that hedonistic ethic destroys, I don’t think you would be wrong."

Steering a middle-but-skeptical ground at Bloomberg is Megan McArdle, who argues that tightening divorce laws might have unintended consequences, including discouraging marriage in the first place. She argues that in previous generations tighter divorce laws were part of a complex web of social pressures that channeled behavior, much of which is now gone.

"The divorce laws of an earlier era were one part of a complex social institution with mutually reinforcing norms and a fairly elaborate system of punishments and rewards. People were encouraged to stay in marriages because divorce was difficult — but it is at least as important that divorce was heavily stigmatized," McArdle writes.

But the sticks of divorce discouragement were matched by marriage carrots, in much more abundant supply than today, she adds:

"Even more important is the energy society spent encouraging people to get married in the first place — not just with the gauzy dreams of wedding gowns and perfect babies that help sustain the institution today, but also with a complicated system of carrots and sticks that have now completely vanished.

"Old maids were stigmatized; women who had babies out of wedlock were shunned. Marriage was the only socially permitted way to cohabit and, for that matter, often the only legal way to do so: Landlords didn’t like renting to people who were shacking up and hotels that rented to rooms to openly unmarried couples risked being indicted as brothels.

"On the positive side, getting married often meant a raise for a man, and for both parties, it constituted instant admission to adulthood."

Email: eschulzke@desnews.com