Changing Divorce Laws

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Changing Divorce Laws
Americans do just about everything a bit more spectacularly than most other people. That includes marriage and divorce. The United States has the world's highest divorce rate and it also leads in the rate of remarriage after divorce, an occurrence that frequently boosts the statistics by leading to yet another breakup. Americans, in short, appear to be marrying more and enjoying it less. This situation distresses clergymen, sociologists and anthropologists, who rightly regard stable marriage as the foundation of society. But it is only half the tragedy of divorce in America. The real scandal is not that so many Americans resort to divorce. It is that so many of the laws of the land are sadly out of step with the growing recognition that, for both married couples and society, divorce is often preferable to a dead marriage. Divorce laws should be changed in ways that will be more equitable for all parties. The most significant happening in the divorce field is a widespread and growing attack on those laws. Whatever else marriage may be, the state regards it as a public contract that only the state can dissolve. The laws that govern that dissolution in the United States, however, are not only widely conflicting and confusing—all 50 states have their own laws —but are based on notions that are out of touch with the changing realities of modern society. Most of them tend to embitter spouses, neglect the welfare of the children, prevent reconciliation and produce a large measure of hypocrisy, double-dealing and perjury. Looking at the welter of divorce laws in the United States, David R. Mace, executive director of the American Association of Marriage Counselors, can only call it "an absolutely ghastly, dreadful, deplorably messy situation."(s) Across the United States, judges, lawyers and marriage experts are raising an urgent cry that it is time to reform and humanize the divorce system. The system has not only succeeded in making divorce unpleasant, complicated and expensive; it has been woefully ineffective in its original aim of holding down divorce and protecting society from the problems that breakups produce. Roughly 400,000 United States couples are being divorced each year. About 40% of them are childless; the rest have some 500,000 children, two-thirds of them under the age of ten. More than 6,000,000 Americans are now divorced or separated, and divorce seems to breed divorce: probably half of all divorced Americans are the children of divorced parents. Divorce or separation occur most among the poor, the least educated, the well-educated and couples with three or more children. Increasingly, it is a problem of the young: 46% of all divorces involve girls who marry in their teens, and 74% those who marry under 25. Conversely, an estimated 85% of Americans who marry at the age of 25 or over stay married. Even so, there is a growing trend for couples to split up in middle age after the kids have left home and husband and wife have discovered that they no longer can, or want to, get along. Though Roman Catholics get fewer divorces than others because of their church's proscriptions, they are not very far behind the Protestant breakup rate because of desertions, separations and annulments. Most Americans still agree with Dr. Lawrence S. Kubie, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland, that "divorce is always a tragedy no matter how civilized the handling of it, always a confession of human failure, even when it is the sorry better of sorry alternatives."(s) But Americans are more relaxed, tolerant and realistic about divorce than they used to be. Though vestiges of social stigma because of divorce still remain in small United States communities, most of the nation long ago decided that a happy divorce, when such can be accomplished, is better than an unhappy marriage, or what British Author A. P. Herbert called "holy deadlock.” (s) Because of this attitude, many of the...
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