Political and Religious Differences as Grounds for Divorce

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POLITICAL AND RELIGIOUS DIFFERENCES AS GROUNDS FOR DIVORCE .... with the accent on Communism W. DEAN WAGNER* The manifold impact of Communism on our society has created variant problems for the judiciary. It is, therefore, not surprising that the issue of "communism as grounds for divorce" has been raised occasionally in divorce litigation. 1 The recent case of Donaldson v. Donaldson dealt directly with this question. This was an action by the wife against the husband for a divorce. The defendant answered with a cross complaint requesting that he be awarded the divorce and custody of a minor child. The plaintiff's complaint was dismissed and the counter claim allowed. The Supreme Court held that the fact the wife was a member of the communist party at the time of her marriage and refused to continue in the religious beliefs of her birth did not entitle the husband to a divorce. The decree was reversed and remanded. The court said: "Neither a religious belief (or the lack of such belief) nor a political or social opinion is of itself grounds for divorce in this jurisdiction." In arriving at this conclusion the court pointed out that the only provision of the statute under which the counter complaint might possibly lie was that which provided "Cruel treatment of either party by the other, or personal indignities rendering life burdensome ' 2 are grounds for divorce. Thus, the court was of the opinion that divergent political opinions, per se, do not constitute the essential elements of either (1) cruel treatment, or (2) personal indignities.3 * 2nd year law student, Duke University; A.B. Colgate, 1950.

231 P.2d 607 (Wash. 1951). See case note, 14 GA. B. J. 238 (Nov. 1951). 2 LAws OF WASH., 1949, c. 215, §2, p. 698, REM.Supp. 1949 §997-2. 3 Cf. New York Herald Tribune, March 8, 1952, p. 1. "A court in Potsdam, East Germany, has ruled a man may divorce his wife for not being sufficiently Marxist, even though he may have admitted adultery. . .. The wife's 'politically weak conduct' drove him to turn away from her, it said."


Certain questions immediately arise from an opinion of this sort. Is the basis of the court's opinion the judicial determination that the essential elements of what constitutes cruel treatment do not encompass the incompatibility that results because of political disparity, so that other courts with different opinions might arrive at a different conclusion? Do the divorce statutes conceive of political differences as grounds for divorce? If they do, are there any policy factors that would preclude their inclusion into divorce regulation? The law is scant with opinions where the issue of political differences have been raised in divorce proceedings. Besides the Donaldson case, one other case raised the subject of political differences as grounds for divorce. That was Braun 4 v. Brauni and likewise was decided in the state of Washington. The court held: "The trial court apparently and properly disregarded the charges that the appellant was a communist, which certainly would not constitute cruelty per se and be grounds for divorce." 5 The decisions in these two cases seem to be correct by the application of the process of applying rules developed in analogous situations. It is surprising, considering the frenzy with which some hold political convictions, that the question has not been raised previously, and in more detail. Reasonable research indicates that these two cases consist of the "law" on this aspect of the topic. But, there has developed in our law the principle that religious differences between spouses are not, per se, grounds for divorce. And the close analogy between political differences and religious differences can clearly be seen. The desire for a divorce would stem from incompatibility due to a state of mind of one of the spouses which the other finds impossible to bear. There seems to be no perceptible difference between the basis for divorce on...
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