Stephen Baskerville: five myths about no-fault divorce

From the Catholic News Agency.

Introduction:

Almost four decades after the “no-fault” divorce revolution began in California, misconceptions abound. Even the many books about divorce, including myriad self-help manuals, are full of inaccurate and misleading information. No public debate preceded the introduction of no-fault divorce laws in the 1970s, and no debate has taken place since.

Yet divorce-on-demand is exacting a devastating toll on our children, our social order, our economy, and even our constitutional rights. A recent study estimates the financial cost of divorce to taxpayers at $112 billion annually. Recent demands to legitimize same-sex marriage almost certainly follow from the divorce revolution, since gay activists readily acknowledge that they only desire to marry under the loosened terms that have resulted from the new divorce laws. Divorce also contributes to a dangerous increase in the power of the state over private life.

Here are the five myths about no-fault divorce:

  • No-fault divorce permitted divorce by mutual consent, thus making divorce less acrimonious
  • We cannot force people to remain married and should not try
  • No-fault divorce has led men to abandon their wives and children
  • When couples cannot agree or cooperate about matters like how the children should be raised, a judge must decide according to “the best interest of the child”
  • Divorce must be made easy because of domestic violence

And the details about number three:

Myth 3: No-fault divorce has led men to abandon their wives and children.

Fact: This does happen (wives more often than children), but it is greatly exaggerated. The vast majority of no-fault divorces — especially those involving children — are filed by wives. In fact, as Judy Parejko, author of Stolen Vows, has shown, the no-fault revolution was engineered largely by feminist lawyers, with the cooperation of the bar associations, as part of the sexual revolution. Overwhelmingly, it has served to separate large numbers of children from their fathers. Sometimes the genders are reversed, so that fathers take children from mothers. But either way, the main effect of no-fault is to make children weapons and pawns to gain power through the courts, not the “abandonment” of them by either parent.

Al Mohler wrote about the history of no-fault divorce a while back, and I think it’s worth reviewing why we have this lousy law.

The story behind America’s love affair with no-fault divorce is a sad and instructive tale. As Baskerville documents, no-fault divorce laws emerged in the United States during the 1970s and quickly spread across the nation. Even though only nine states had no-fault divorce laws in 1977, by 1995, every state had legalized no-fault divorce.

Behind all this is an ideological revolution driven by feminism and facilitated by this society’s embrace of autonomous individualism. Baskerville argues that divorce “became the most devastating weapon in the arsenal of feminism, because it creates millions of gender battles on the most personal level.” As far back as 1947, the National Association of Women Lawyers [NAWL] was pushing for what we now know as no-fault divorce. More recently, NAWL claims credit for the divorce revolution, describing it as “the greatest project NAWL has ever undertaken.”

The feminists and NAWL were not working alone, of course. Baskerville explains that the American Bar Association “persuaded the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws [NCCUSL] to produce the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act.” Eventually, this led to a revolution in law and convulsions in society at large. This legal revolution effectively drove a stake into the heart of marriage itself, with inevitable consequences. In effect, no-fault divorce has become the catalyst for one of the most destructive cultural shifts in human history. Now, no-fault divorce is championed by many governments in the name of human rights, and America’s divorce revolution is spreading around the world under the banner of “liberation.”

And note that Democrats oppose any effort to reform laws that make it easy to break up marriages:

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.

So, no-fault was pushed by two groups: feminists and trial lawyers.

There’s a lot of talk these days about gay marriage and how it undermines marital norms and normalizes raising children without either their biological father or biological mother. But before there was gay marriage, there was no-fault divorce, which deprives children of their biological father. There is no provision for no-fault divorce in the Bible, so it seems to me that Christians should be against frivolous divorce just like we are against same-sex marriage.

5 thoughts on “Stephen Baskerville: five myths about no-fault divorce”

  1. Most people don’t realize that it’s true that “no-fault” divorce simply enabled more women to leave their husbands. In 1980, the ratio of husbands leaving wives to wives leaving husbands was 600:1. For every one wife who divorced her husband, 600 husbands divorced their wives. In 1990, just a decade later, the ratio was 12:1 … in reverse. For every husband that left his wife, 12 wives left their husbands.

    Beyond that, an unprecedented number of mothers have opted not only to leave their husbands, but their children as well. “No-fault” is a serious misnomer.

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  2. The thinking behind it wasn’t only for the lawyers to line their pockets (although I am sure there was some of that — no-one is ever pure of intention), but that people shouldn’t be forced to litigate the details of their personal romantic/marital lives in court in order to get divorced. The idea was “marriages break down, and it’s always painful and disruptive, so let’s not make it even more painful and disruptive by forcing people to litigate the details of their personal failures in court — let’s let them get out without doing that, and have the court focus on the tangible stuff like property, debts and kids”.

    Of course this was very stupid, for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most fundamental stupidity was the concession to the idea that “well, marriages are going to break down, so we may as well let people out of them without too much pain” — a disastrous idea for marriage and society, particularly in terms of family stability and child raising. That criticism was countered with the idea that “if the parents are happy, they will be better parents for the kids and so the kids are better off if the parents divorce and are happier” — something which has long since been well and truly debunked of course, because kids of divorce fare badly regardless of the parents’ sense of well being (kids in unhappy marriages still have better outcomes than kids of divorce) and most people are NOT happier after they are divorced, regardless of sex.

    In addition, the idea that this reform eliminated litigating the marriage is laughable, because what happened in fact was that the litigating the marriage aspect was largely moved to the litigating child custody aspect — and many of the same issues relating to behavior in the marriage, including bad acts and so on, come onto the table before the court in that context *anyway* — a context which is at least no less painful than the old fault divorce rules.

    Ultimately, most people got snookered by the feminists. The feminists claimed that the idea was to let women out of abusive marriages without having to force them go through the “second abuse” of having to litigate the abuse and prove it in court. In reality, of course, a much deeper impulse was at work. Fundamentally, women do not want easy divorce (and almost all women support easy divorce, if only on a “just in case” basis) only to avoid actual abuse (could always get a divorce on that basis under the old rules), but to allow them to get away from a husband to whom they no longer want to be married for any number of reasons, including boredom, “falling out of love”, needing to “find herself”, falling in love with someone else, needing to “change her life” and so on — most of which are euphemisms for remating. Being locked into a lifelong monogamous marriage which can only be exited for a limited number of reasons really clamps down on the innate female desire to remate at some stage so as to avoid placing her eggs all in one basket, quite literally. This innate tendency is of course something that comes as a result of the fall, and sin nature and so on, and can be overcome. But we can see that this is what is really at play in no fault divorce based on the divorces we see: most of them, the overwhelming majority of them, are NOT relating to abuse or addiction, or even adultery — most of them are based on the remating euphemisms, and most are initiated by women because of this.

    No-fault divorce hugely shifted the legal regime of marriage in a way that almost perfectly suits the more base innate tendencies of women’s sin nature. Almost to the tee, really. Everyone was basically snookered by the feminists, and now, when you look at how it has played out, if you try to discuss any of this, you are branded a misogynist in order to get you to shut up. As a result, change is very hard, and is unlikely, even in the medium term. The shift was too gigantic, and the advantage too visceral for women, who are the majority of the electorate, to permit being reversed.

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