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Assess whether the changes in divorce laws is the main cause in the rise of divorce rates

By sandranickelsen Jan 16, 2014 1683 Words
Assess whether the changes in divorce laws is the main cause in the rise of divorce rates Divorce is the legal termination of marriage. Since the 1960’s, there has been a great increase in the number of divorces in the United Kingdom. The number of divorces doubled between 1961 and 1969, and doubled again by 1972. The upward trend continued, peaking in 1993 at 180,000. Sociologists have identified the reasons for the increase in divorce. Divorce was very difficult to obtain in the 19th century Britain, especially for women. Before 1875, it was necessary to ask the parliament for a divorce. However this was very expensive, so only the wealthy, such as the King, could afford a divorce. Therefore, there was a very low rate of divorce as the majority were too poor for this. In 1857 the Matrimonial Causes Act was passed. The idea of matrimonial offence was created meaning that the main and only reason a divorce could be obtained is if adultery was committed. Divorce was now cheaper and easier than before but adultery had to be proven, which was very difficult as photographic evidence usually had to be provided to the court. The 1950 Divorce Law meant that the reasons for divorce were widened; it was now legal to get a divorce for cruelty and desertion. However, divorce was still based upon blaming one spouse for the marital breakdown. The Divorce Reform Act of 1971 widened the reasons further – marriage was now legal if there was irretrievable breakdown. It was now easier to divorce. People no longer have to prove that one partner is at fault or behaved badly. The 1984 Divorce Law reduced the time before a petition could take place from 3 to 1 year, making divorce much easier and quicker. By 1996, The Family Act, partners no longer had to prove irretrievable breakdown, they just had to simply state it had broken down, this made divorce extremely easy and accessible to everyone. These changes of divorce laws have made it easier and cheaper to obtain a divorce, creasing the rate of them. Divorce now is a more affordable option (even to the working class) as a result of other laws which affect the cost of getting divorced or support for those who have divorced, for example the Legal Aid and Advice Act of 1949 provided free advice for those who could not afford to pay for a solicitor (working class) and the Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Act of 2000 meant that the absent parents had to pay contributions to their children making it easier for parents (usually mothers) to retain some financial security after divorce. Although, changes in the law have given people the freedom to divorce more easily, this does not in itself explain why more people should choose to take advantage of this freedom. To explain the rise in divorce rates we must therefore look at other changes too, for example changes in public attitudes towards divorce. In the past, divorce was looked down upon and was a great shame; however in modernity divorce has become socially acceptable and rather than being viewed as shameful it is now seen as a misfortune. Mitchell & Goody (1997) note that since the 1960s there has been a rapid decline in the stigma attached to divorce. Therefore, as stigma declines and divorce becomes more socially acceptable, couples become more willing to resort to divorce as the solution to their problems within the relationship; increasing the rise of divorce rates. This is supported by The British Social Attitudes Survey (1998) which found that 82% of people disagree that married couples should stay together if they do not get along. This gives evidence that divorce rates are increasing due to the changes in public attitudes towards divorce and the fact that it is becoming more socially acceptable. In order to assess whether divorce rates are increasing due to changes in divorce laws, we also need to look at secularization. Secularization refers to the decline in the influence of religion in society. Gibson (1994) argues that secularization has loosened the rigid morality which in the past made divorce morally unacceptable to some people. In the past, it was religiously unacceptable to obtain a divorce as many people believed that marriage is a gift from God and that the partners have been joined together by God, therefore any separation of marriage was believed to result in punishment, for example burning in hell. However, in modernity there has been a decline in the power of religious institutions and in church attendance; also many churches have begun to soften their views on divorce and divorcees. This has increased the rates of divorce as secularization has made it more acceptable to obtain a divorce. Furthermore, in order to assess whether divorce rates are increasing due to changes in divorce laws, we also need to look at the rising expectations of marriage. Functionalists, such as Fletcher (1966) argue that people placing higher expectations on marriage today is the major cause of rising divorce rates. Higher expectations make couples nowadays less willing to tolerate an unhappy marriage. This is linked to the ideology of romantic love. This is the idea that marriage should be based solely on love, and that for each individual there is a Mr or Miss Right. Therefore, people believe that if this love dies there is no longer any reason to remain within the marriage and people should continue to search for their true soulmate. However, this contracts the past, individuals had little choice as to who they married, as in the past the family was a unit of production therefore marriages were usually for economic reasons. This was usually arranged by the parents of the individual and it was a duty to do so. Therefore, individuals were unlikely to have high expectations about marriage as a romantic union. By entering marriage with low expectations meant that they were less likely to be dissatisfied if there was a lack of intimacy, love or romance. On the other hand, despite today’s high divorce rates, functionalists such as Fletcher take an optimistic view. They argue that marriage is still popular. Most adults marry, and the high rate of re-marriage after divorce shows that although people may be dissatisfied they do not reject marriage as an institution. However, Feminists, argue that the functionalist view is too rosy. They argue that the oppression of women within the family is the main cause of marital conflict and divorce. Functionalists do explain the rise of divorce rates, however they fail to explain why it is mainly women rather than men who seek divorce. Lastly, in order to assess whether divorce rates are increasing due to changes in divorce laws, we also need to look at the changes in the position of women. Recently there have been many improvements in the economic position for women, this has made them less financially dependent on their husband and therefore more likely to end an unsatisfactory marriage. Women today are much more likely to be in paid work. The proportion of women working rose from 47% in 1959 to 70% in 2005, this has allowed women to be more likely to support themselves in the event of a divorce. Allan and Crow argue that marriage is less embedded within the economic system now. Each spouse in the marriage has their own separate source of income from paid work, this means that because spouses do not have to rely on each other financially, they do not have to tolerate conflict or the absence of love. Feminists argue that the fact that women are now wage earners as well as homemakers has itself created a new source of conflict between husbands and wives and this is leading to more divorces. However, although there have been big improvements in women’s position in the public sphere of employment, education, politics etc. Feminists argue that the private sphere of family and personal relationships, change has been slow. They argue that marriage remains patriarchal, with men benefiting from their wives’ ‘triple shift’ of paid work, domestic work and emotional work. Hochschild (1997) argues that at work women now feel valued unlike the home. At home means resistance to do housework creates conflict. Furthermore the fact that both partners go out to work means there is less time to sort out any emotional problems. Sigle-Rushton (1997) agrees with Hochschild as she found that working mothers are more likely to divorce than those women who are full time housewives in a traditional nuclear family. However, in families where husbands of working women help with housework the likelihood of divorce is much less. Radical feminists, such as Bernard (1976) argues that women feel dissatisfied with patriarchal marriage. Evidence of this is rising divorce rates, the fact most petitions come from women as evidence of women’s increasing acceptance of feminist ideas as they become conscious of patriarchal oppression and feel confident in rejecting it. In conclusion, changes of divorce laws have made it easier and cheaper to obtain a divorce, creasing the rate of them. Divorce now is a more affordable option (even to the working class) as a result of other laws which affect the cost of getting divorced or support for those who have divorced. However, this is not the only cause of divorce rates increasing. The change of public changes have also impacted this. In the past, divorce was looked down upon and was a great shame; however in modernity divorce has become socially acceptable and rather than being viewed as shameful it is now seen as a misfortune. Also, secularization has loosened the rigid morality which in the past made divorce morally unacceptable to some people. Furthermore, the ideology has change from the past. People placing higher expectations on marriage today is the major cause of rising divorce rates. Higher expectations make couples nowadays less willing to tolerate an unhappy marriage. Lastly, changes in the position of women have changed. Women today are much more likely to be in paid work. There have been many improvements in the economic position for women, this has made them less financially dependent on their husband and therefore more likely to end an unsatisfactory marriage.

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