A new report from The Heritage Foundation claims that no fault divorce hurts women and children, and has led to a breakdown of traditional marriage and family values. The article was written in response to New York making strides to become the final state to adopt no-fault divorce. One of the points that the article focuses on is the strange bedfellows that this bill has made, as the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the state Catholic conference have teamed up to oppose the bill using the same logic that The Heritage Foundation is using. Specifically, the groups argue that, “the bill would allow judges to ignore cruelty that occurs in some marriages and also permit husbands to hide assets from the court, leaving divorced women and children financially unstable.” While this argument may be true in some cases, no fault divorce in fact often helps to mitigate these very same circumstances.
The Heritage Foundation cites the current fifty percent divorce rate, the decline in the number of marriages, and the increase in the number of people cohabiting and having children out-of-wedlock as the problems related to no-fault divorce. In addition, Senior Research Fellow Chuck Donovan, in a WebMemo entitled “Marriage, Parentage, and the Constitution of the Family,” states that, “children of divorce disproportionately suffer from such maladies as …
… depression, compromised health, childhood sexual abuse, arrests, and addiction.” In my mind, this amounts to nothing but right-wing fear-mongering about deviation from traditional, fundamentalist definitions of marriage and family, by equating anything else with descent into a life of immorality (which makes it rather perplexing that a liberal organization like NOW would join on with an initiative that is so blatantly anti-feminist).
One of the most common arguments is that liberal divorce laws, acceptance of feminism, abortion, and gay lifestyles have led to an increase in divorces, illegitimate children, and violent crime (Freakonomics is a good example).
What I think is being missed is that many women have, in fact, been helped by no-fault divorce, as it has allowed them to escape these same abusive marriages that conservative groups claim are only a recent occurrence. It is likely that just as many people from previous generations would have gotten divorced if it was an option at the time, and would not have stayed in marriages that were unsafe or unfulfilling.
Along the same lines, many people that choose to live together and have children without getting married are in no less strong a relationship than those that are married, as non-religious, legal marriage is merely an arrangement for tax benefits that does not guarantee permanence, regardless of any notions of ’til death do us part. Indeed, some people that are married perhaps should not be, due to their inability to make monogamous commitments or they’re simply not being a good long term match for their partner. If we truly wish to strengthen future and existing marriages, it will be important to emphasize what makes marriage work and what does not, and encourage those who do not feel completely comfortable with commitment to perhaps consider not entering into such an arrangement. That way, we won’t have to have these petty arguments about why marriages are failing and why so many people are getting divorced.