No-Fault Divorce Does Not Spare Pain and Grief

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

It was in the 1950s when Oklahoma became the first state to legislate no-fault divorce.  In the following three decades every state instituted no-fault divorce in some form or fashion.  No-fault divorce did not spare pain and grief for families, but divorce became cheaper and faster.   Critics say no-fault made divorce too quick, too cheap, too easy, and hastened breakdown of our family system.  
The legislative bodies in Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, and Pennsylvania are soliciting support to repeal no-fault divorce laws.  They insist on laws that will make divorce more lengthy and tedious.  They believe that stricter divorce laws will preserve family, save the institution of marriage, spare children the trauma of divorce, and protect non-working wives.  It feels good to hear that such good things will result from the stroke of a Governor's pen  who eventually signs the bill, but it sounds too simplistic to be true.  The health and happiness of a family is far too complex to be regulated by legislation alone.  Education and social change are far more important than legislation.          

 Let's look at both sides of the argument.  Have no-fault divorce laws caused increase in divorces?  Yes, they have.  Is the divorce rate going to rise further?  It doesn't appear it would.  Divorce rates first soared and then stabilized.  Ever since I came to United States in 1981, and now, 15 years later, divorce rate has steadily been around 50%.  Is 50% divorce rate acceptable?  Definitely not.  However, to ensure that institution of marriage remains hale and hearty, we need to focus on marriage rather than on divorce.  Let's work for improving marriages rather than work against divorces.  Working for peace produces better results than working against war just as working for healthier bodies produce better results than working against fat . 

 A marriage counseling story runs like this:  Wife threatens divorce.  The couple goes for marriage counseling.   Counselor asks, "What is the problem?"  Husband says, "Ask her.  I don't have a problem."  wife says, " We don't communicate.  I don't remember when was the last time he told me that he loves me."  Husband, clearly annoyed by this charge, says, "Woman, the day we married, I told you I love you.  Had I changed my mind, I sure would've told you."  The man in this story didn't want to waste any time on communication or on working on their relationship.  He didn't want to spend any time on building and strengthening their marriage; the only reason he moved into action was to prevent divorce.     When we go to a hospital, buy a product from a company, or buy services of an agency, we are often given a satisfaction survey.   They want to know how they can improve on their performance.  Why should we take marriage for granted?  Shouldn't partners ask each other, "How am I doing or what do I need to change about myself from your point of view?  Not to do this is to assume that we are perfect.  

 Follow up studies on children of divorce strongly suggest that children suffer pain and anxiety from parental divorce.  Fear and trauma of earlier parental divorce may resurface ten,  fifteen, or twenty years later when a young person is about to make a commitment to his or her partner.  From that standpoint, "fault-divorce" laws can surely reduce divorce rate and spare a few kids the trauma of divorce.  However, what about kids being subjected to day in day out screaming, yelling, and fighting between the parents or repeated abuse from one parent to another?   Consider another scenario, this time of a parent abusing kids or spouse and kids.  Is bitterness, hostility, and abuse during the entire childhood of a child less harmful than an earlier divorce?  Certainly not.  

 A child is more likely to be harmed by a conflict and violence-ridden biological family than by a moving to a step family provided there is no such conflict and violence there.  Violence and poor parenting is more likely to be the case, in future, in a family where there is abuse and violence happening now.  Children living in intensely conflictual families are likely to have serious behavior problems.  A single parent is not always an inferior choice to living with both parents.  Kids are worse off in a violent two-parent home than in a non-violent one-parent home.  Fault divorce laws encouraged lying and infighting.  Only private detectives and lawyers profited from them, not the families.

 We complain of too much government, then why should we propose more government?  Legislation for fault-divorce is not the solution.  We have to become better and more responsible as a person, and then better and more responsible partners and parents.  We need social action and education such as, greater economic independence for women, equality between sexes, anger management, peaceful conflict-resolution skills, skills of communication between sexes, effective parenting skills, and condemnation of domestic violence by male role models.  In terms of legislation, perhaps the state may require some form of mediation or counseling to end the conflict over children, when indicated. 

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 



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