The No Blame Game

In this classic Crisis Magazine article, Stephen Baskerville argues that no-fault divorce is Western civilization’s most disasterous social experiment.

America is in revolt over marriage.
Some 30 states have now passed amendments to protect the definition of marriage, and more will follow. Same-sex marriage has also shaken the decades-long loyalty of African-Americans to the Democratic Party. Only a short time ago, few would have predicted such a public uprising in defense of marriage and the family.

And this may be only the beginning. Bill Cosby’s celebrated 2004 remarks on family morality — and the largely positive response — has placed a once-taboo subject at the top of the African-American agenda. And another ballot result has not received the attention it deserves: In liberal Massachusetts, a whopping 85 percent of voters defied the strident opposition of feminists and lawyers to approve a non-binding referendum giving fathers equality in custody decisions.
All this suggests that not only gay marriage but larger questions of family integrity and parenthood are set to convulse our politics. Those who cast their ballots last November on the basis of "moral values" may have had more in mind than just same-sex marriage, which is neither the only threat to marriage nor even the most serious. To truly reverse the decline of the family, the momentum must be carried forward to confront the others. And eventually we must grasp a painful nettle: The most direct threat to the family is divorce on demand. Sooner or later, if civilization is to endure, it must be brought under control.
The most forthright marriage advocates recognize that, as Michael McManus of Marriage Savers writes, "Divorce is a far more grievous blow to marriage than today’s challenge by gays." Predictably, this fact has been seized upon by advocates of same-sex marriage. "The weakening of marriage has been heterosexuals’ doing, not gays,’ for it is their infidelity, divorce rates, and single-parent families that have wrought social damage," opines the Economist.
This distinction ignores the fact that the two problems are closely connected. Gay marriage would probably not be an issue in the first place if marriage had not already been weakened by divorce. "Commentators miss the point when they oppose homosexual marriage on the grounds that it would undermine traditional understandings of marriage," writes Bryce Christensen of Southern Utah University. "It is only because traditional understandings of marriage have already been severely undermined that homosexuals are now laying claim to it."
Likewise, though gay activists cite the very desire to marry as evidence that their lifestyle is not inherently promiscuous, Andrew Sullivan acknowledges that that desire arises only because of the promiscuity permitted in modern marriage. "The world of no-strings heterosexual hookups and 50 percent divorce rates preceded gay marriage," he points out. "All homosexuals are saying…is that, under the current definition, there’s no reason to exclude us. If you want to return straight marriage to the 1950s, go ahead. But until you do, the exclusion of gays is…a denial of basic civil equality" (emphasis added). Gays don’t want a marriage that means something, only the watered-down version that exists today.
Blaming the Victim
While lamenting the high divorce rate is conventional piety among family advocates, most have refused to challenge the divorce laws. The standard rationalization is that to control divorce we must first change the culture. But no one suggests that changing the culture is a prerequisite for preventing, say, abortion. While cultural forces certainly contribute, the divorce epidemic has proceeded directly from a legal system that permits and even encourages it.
No-fault divorce laws were introduced in the United States and other industrialized countries during the 1970s and are being expanded into other regions of the world today. "No-fault" is a misnomer (taken from car insurance), for the new laws did not stop at removing the requirement that grounds be cited for a divorce. But they did create unilateral and involuntary divorce, so that one spouse may end a marriage without any agreement or fault by the other. Moreover, the spouse that divorces or otherwise abrogates the marriage contract incurs no liability for the costs or consequences, creating a unique and unprecedented legal anomaly. "In all other areas of contract law those who break a contract are expected to compensate their partner," writes Robert Whelan of London’s Institute of Economic Affairs, "but under a system of ‘no-fault’ divorce, this essential element of contract law is abrogated."
In fact, the legal implications go further, since the courts actively assist the violator. Attorney Steven Varnis points out that "the law generally supports the spouse seeking the divorce, even if that spouse was the wrongdoer." "No fault" did not really remove fault, therefore; it simply allowed judges to redefine it however they pleased. It introduced the novel concept that one could be deemed guilty of violating an agreement that one had, in fact, not violated. "According to therapeutic precepts, the fault for marital breakup must be shared, even when one spouse unilaterally seeks a divorce," observes Barbara Whitehead in The Divorce Culture. "Many husbands and wives who did not seek or want divorce were stunned to learn…that they were equally ‘at fault’ in the dissolution of their marriages."
The "fault" that was ostensibly thrown out the front door of divorce proceedings re-entered through the back, but now with no precise definition. The judiciary was expanded from its traditional role of punishing crime or tort to punishing personal imperfections and private differences: One could now be summoned to court without having committed any infraction; the verdict was pre-determined; and one could be found "guilty" of things that were not illegal. Lawmakers created an "automatic outcome," writes Judy Parejko, author of Stolen Vows."A defendant is automatically found ‘guilty’ of irreconcilable differences and is not allowed a defense."
Though marriage ostensibly falls under civil law, the logic quickly extended into the criminal. The "automatic outcome" expanded into what effectively became a presumption of guilt against the involuntarily divorced spouse ("defendant"). Yet the due process protections of formal criminal proceedings didn’t apply, so involuntary divorcees could become criminals without any action on their part and in ways they were powerless to avoid. In some jurisdictions, a divorce defendant is the only party in the courtroom without legal immunity.
Contrary to the assumptions of "change the culture" thinking, these laws were not enacted in response to public demand: No popular clamor to dispense with divorce restrictions preceded their passage; no public outrage at any perceived injustice provided the impetus; no public debate was ever held in the media. Legislators "were not responding to widespread public pressure but rather acceding to the well-orchestrated lobbying of a few activists," writes Christensen. "Eclipsed in the media…by other issues — such as civil rights, Vietnam, Watergate, and abortion" — the new laws rapidly swept the nation "with little publicity and no mass support."
In retrospect, these laws can be seen as one of the boldest social experiments in history. The result effectively abolished marriage as a legal contract. As a result, it’s no longer possible to form a binding agreement to create a family.
Quiet Legal Maneuvers
Though the changes were passed largely by and for the legal business, the ideological engine that has never been properly appreciated was organized feminism. Not generally perceived as a gender battle — and never one they wished to advertise — divorce became the most devastating weapon in the arsenal of feminism, because it creates millions of gender battles on the most personal level. Germaine Greer openly celebrates divorce as the foremost indicator of feminist triumph: "Exactly the thing that people tear their hair out about is exactly the thing I am very proud of," she tells the Australian newspaper.
This is hardly new. As early as the American Revolution and throughout the 19th century, "divorce became an increasingly important measure of women’s political freedom as well as an expression of feminine initiative and independence," writes Whitehead. "The association of divorce with women’s freedom and prerogatives… remained an enduring and important feature of American divorce."
Well before the 1970s, the symbiosis of law and women’s rights created the divorce revolution. The National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) claims credit for no-fault divorce, which it describes as "the greatest project NAWL has ever undertaken." As early as 1947, the NAWL convention approved a no-fault bill. Working through the American Bar Association, NAWL convinced the National Conference of Commissioners of Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL) to produce the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act. "By 1977, the divorce portions had been adopted by nine states," NAWL proudly notes, and "the ideal of no-fault divorce became the guiding principle for reform of divorce laws in the majority of states." By 1985, every state had no-fault divorce.
Today, feminist operatives employ similar strategies to encourage divorce worldwide, often inserting it unnoticed and unopposed into programs for "human rights," and unilateral divorce is now one of the first measures implemented by leftist governments. When Spain’s socialists came to power last year, their three domestic priorities were legalized abortion, same-sex marriage, and liberalized divorce. Iranian feminist Emadeddin Baghi writes in the Washington Post that "a 20 percent increase in the divorce rate is…a sign that traditional marriage is changing as women gain equality." And Turkey was required to withdraw a proposal to penalize adultery to gain acceptance in the European Union, while divorce liberalization counted in their favor.
The High Cost of Divorce
The damage done by family breakdown — especially to children — is now so well known that it hardly needs laboring. Children of divorced parents suffer far more emotional and behavioral problems than do children from intact families. They are more likely to attempt suicide and to suffer poor health. They perform more poorly in school and are more inclined to become involved with drugs, alcohol, gangs, and crime. These problems continue into adulthood, when children of divorce have more trouble forming and keeping stable relationships of their own. Through divorce, they in turn pass these traits to their own children. All this entails social costs for the rest of us, giving the public an interest in family preservation.
It might be one thing if parents were colluding to inflict this on their own children, as divorce defenders like to pretend. Even given the social consequences, a case might still be made that divorce is each couple’s "private decision," as Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm recently claimed when she vetoed a mild reform bill. But in the vast majority of cases, only one of the parents imposes divorce on both the children and the other parent. Astoundingly, the parent that inflicts the divorce on the children is also the one most likely to retain custody of them. In such cases, divorce isn’t remotely private; it amounts to a public seizure of the innocent spouse’s children and invasion of his or her parental rights, perpetrated by our governments and using our tax dollars.
Indeed, civil freedom is perhaps the least appreciated casualty of unilateral divorce. G. K. Chesterton once warned that the family is the most enduring check on government power and that divorce and democracy were ultimately incompatible. The repressive measures being enacted against divorced fathers — most of whom never agree to a divorce and are legally faultless — now include incarcerations without trial or charge, coerced confessions, and the creation of special courts and forced labor facilities.
Recognizing the Problem
No one should have any illusions that reversing these trends will be easy. The political interests that abolished marriage in the first place have only grown more wealthy and powerful off the system they created. Thirty-five years of unrestrained divorce have created a multibillion dollar industry and given vast numbers of people a vested interest in it. Divorce and custody are the cash cow of the judiciary and directly employ a host of federal, state, and local officials, plus private hangers-on. More largely, the societal ills left by broken families create further employment and power for even larger armies of officials. So entrenched has divorce become within our political economy, and so diabolical is its ability to insinuate itself throughout our political culture, that even critics seem to have developed a stake in having something to bemoan. Hardly anyone has an incentive to bring it under control.
In contrast with gay marriage, abortion, and pornography, politicians studiously avoid divorce laws. "Opposing gay marriage or gays in the military is for Republicans an easy, juicy, risk-free issue," writes Maggie Gallagher. "The message [is] that at all costs we should keep divorce off the political agenda." No American politician of national stature has ever challenged involuntary divorce. "Democrats did not want to anger their large constituency among women who saw easy divorce as a hard-won freedom and prerogative," observes Whitehead. "Republicans did not want to alienate their upscale constituents or their libertarian wing, both of whom tended to favor easy divorce, nor did they want to call attention to the divorces among their own leadership." In his famous denunciation of single parenthood, Vice President Dan Quayle was careful to make clear, "I am not talking about a situation where there is a divorce." The exception proves the rule. When Pope John Paul II spoke out against divorce in January 2002, he was roundly attacked from the right as well as the left.
Yet politicians can no longer ignore the issue. For one thing, the logic of the same-sex marriage controversy may force us to confront divorce, since the silence is becoming conspicuous and threatens to undermine the credibility of marriage proponents. "People who won’t censure divorce carry no special weight as defenders of marriage," writes columnist Froma Harrop. "Moral authority doesn’t come cheap."
There is also evidence that the public is becoming not only aware of, but increasingly impatient with, fallout from broken families. A 1999 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 78 percent of Americans see the high divorce rate as a serious problem, and a Time/CNN poll found that 61 percent believe it should be harder for couples with young children to divorce. David Schramm of Utah State University estimates that divorce costs Americans $33.3 billion annually. "Taxpayers who have preserved their own marriages through personal integrity and sacrifice," Christensen suggests, "may find it puzzling and offensive that state officials appear so willing to dissolve marriages and to collectivize the costs."
Fighting Back
Thus far, most proposals aimed at addressing the divorce issue have been limited to the least costly — and least effective. Requirements that divorcing couples undergo waiting periods and counseling have passed in some states (and form the substance of most "covenant marriage" laws). But at best, such provisions merely delay the outcome. At worst, they place psychotherapists on the government payroll or force involuntary litigants to hire them. Either way, the therapists develop a stake in more divorce.
On the other hand, while simply banning groundless divorce shows more determination, it’s unlikely to be very effective, since it isn’t practical to force people to live together. An Arizona bill introduced in 2003, for example, stipulated that a court "shall not decree a dissolution of the marriage on grounds of incompatibility if: a) the wife is pregnant; or b) the couple has ever had a child." Such measures may discourage break-ups among observant Christians and could provide some legal redress against desertion. But as Chesterton observed, a ban on divorce is mostly, in practice, a ban on remarriage. Under such a provision a spouse could simply separate (with the children) and live in permanent adultery with a new paramour.
Such schemes lend plausibility to some of the irrelevant arguments of divorce promoters: "No good can come from forcing people to remain in loveless marriages, even in the misguided belief that somehow it is better for the children," runs an editorial in the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah, opposing a mild reform bill recently introduced. "Is it really good for children to be raised in a home by two parents who don’t love each other and who fight all the time but who are forced to stay because of the law?"
These questions are red herrings. Divorce today does not necessarily indicate marital conflict and is less likely to be the last resort for a troubled marriage than a sudden power grab. Most divorces are initiated with little warning and often involve child snatchings. In 25 percent of marriage breakdowns, writes Margaret Brinig of Iowa State University, the man has "no clue" there is a problem until the woman says she wants out. A University of Exeter study found that in over half the cases there was no recollection of major conflict before the separation. "The assumption that parental conflict will cease at divorce is not only invalid," writes Patricia Morgan; "divorce itself instigates conflict which continues into the post-divorce period."
Further, as Judith Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee found, few children are pleased with divorce, even when severe conflict exists. "Children…can be quite content even when their parents’ marriage is profoundly unhappy for one or both partners," they write. "Only one in ten children in our study experienced relief when their parents divorced. These were mostly older children in families where there had been open violence." Divorce and separation almost always have a more detrimental effect on children than even high-conflict marriages. "The misery their parents may feel in an unhappy marriage is usually less significant than the changes [the children] have to go through after a divorce," says Neil Kalter, a University of Michigan psychologist. Surveys of children by Ann Mitchell and J. T. Landis found that most recalled a happy family life before the breakup.
How the Law Can Be Reformed
In any case, limiting no-fault divorce will never force people to live together — though done properly, it will provide strong incentives to work at their marriages rather than dissolve them. Reforming divorce laws, first of all, means reintroducing fault for violating the marital contract. It will, in effect, restore justice to the legal proceedings. "The alternative to liberal or ‘no-fault’ divorce is not no divorce," writes Whelan, "but divorce which is granted only…after due legal process to establish fault." The obvious counter-argument, that failed marriages often entail imperfections on both sides, does not justify abandoning all standards of justice. "There is fault on both sides in every human relationship," Fred Hanson acknowledged when the laws were enacted. "The faults, however, are far from equal. No secular society can be operated on the theory that all faults are equal." Hanson was the dissenting member of NCCUSL, which designed no-fault laws. "To do justice between parties without regard to fault is an impossibility," he warned. "I wonder what’s to become of the maxim that no man shall profit by his own wrong — or woman either, for that matter."
Tragically, we now have the answer in today’s perversion of the criminal justice system by divorce-related accusations of domestic "abuse." Patently fabricated charges are rampant in divorce courts, mostly to secure child custody and remove fathers, and the cry of "trapping women in abusive marriages" has become the principal argument against fault-based divorce. The irony is telling, since physical violence obviously is and always has been grounds for divorce. The argument also reveals the totalitarian nature of today’s feminism. What feminists object to is being held to the same standards of evidence as everyone else by having to prove their accusations. Fault divorce would entail the "burden of proving that abuse had occurred," argues the Daily Herald. "It’s not easy to accumulate medical records detailing injuries, eyewitnesses, and a police record of domestic violence calls to the house." It isn’t? But that’s precisely what the rest of us must do when we accuse others of vicious crimes. What feminists want — and already have — is the power to trample the presumption of innocence and due process of law in order to evict fathers on accusations of ill-defined "abuse" that cannot be proven because, in many cases, it did not take place at all.
This is the inevitable consequence of abolishing objective standards and allowing judges to create infractions out of whatever subjective grievance or "abuse" a tearful spouse invokes. To operate effectively, fault must entail objective, enumerated, and proven grounds that are understood at the time of marriage. These grounds may vary somewhat among jurisdictions, but spouses must have a reasonably predictable expectation of the consequences of specific misbehaviors and violations of the marital contract. This basic principle of justice is required of all other laws in a free society.
Further, to effectively deter divorce, fault must entail substantial consequences. Or stated more positively, innocence must carry substantial protections. While property considerations are not trivial, most important is that marriage must protect an innocent spouse’s right to be left in peace with his or her children. Feminists complain that this punishes women for leaving a bad marriage. But strictly speaking (and aside from the question of whose behavior made it a bad marriage), it need entail no punishment at all. It simply allows an innocent spouse to invoke the protections for which he or she originally married.
This is the essential insight provided by the fathers in Massachusetts. Though not all of them question no-fault divorce, their plight illustrates why divorce reform will never succeed unless fault is tied to child custody. Because most divorces are filed by mothers, the fathers’ demands could sharply reduce divorce and the stranglehold of the divorce industry.
Yet even this alone will prove insufficient. Divorce and custody are connected with larger problems of judicial activism and corruption, and judges can readily concoct justifications to rule in the best interests of themselves and their cronies. The Massachusetts same-sex marriage decision has unwittingly created common cause between family advocates and judicial reformers. This alliance must be expanded, since divorce reform and judicial reform are inseparable. As Gallagher writes, "People don’t trust the legal system to determine who committed a murder, let alone whose conduct destroyed a marriage."
Today’s family crisis is being attacked piecemeal by groups that hardly talk to one another, each hacking at branches that proceed from a common root: pro-family groups trying to forestall same-sex marriage, marriage promoters trying to discourage divorce, fathers demanding equal rights, African-American leaders encouraging family responsibility, and judicial reformers pushing for improvement. Alone, none of these will reverse the decline of the family. But taken together, they wield sufficient political strength to challenge the formidable judicial-divorce machinery.
Something like this coalition is emerging now in Virginia, where disparate groups have teamed up to propose a "Family Bill of Rights." In addition to a marriage amendment, legislators have introduced an amendment protecting "the God-given rights of parents" to determine the upbringing of their children. Stronger still, Catholic state senator Ken Cuccinelli proposes tying child custody to marital fault, giving children the security of knowing they cannot be torn from a parent unless that parent has already acted to destroy their home. Together, these measures will give Virginia the strongest family protection provisions in the Western world.
The Religious Dimension
But politicians and interest groups can only achieve so much; a central role remains for churches. Family integrity will be secure only when families are depoliticized and when the church, not the state, is both the first recourse at the advent of conflict and the family’s principal guarantor against state encroachment. Our present predicament results partly because churches (with only the partial exception of the Catholic Church) abdicated these roles. Failure to intervene in the marriages it consecrated and exert moral pressure on misbehaving spouses left a vacuum that has been filled by the state judiciary.
Reforming the family judiciary will therefore create an immediate demand for the services of morally vigorous pastoral communities, even among those who previously viewed the church’s role in their marriages as largely ceremonial. No greater challenge confronts the churches today — nor any greater opportunity to stem the exodus from them — than to reinvigorate and defend their own sacrament and the families created by it.

Stephen Baskerville is a political scientist at Patrick Henry College and author of
Taken Into Custody: The War Against Fatherhood, Marriage, and the Family (Cumberland House 2007). This essay was made possible by a fellowship from the Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society, and originally appeared in the March 2005 issue of Crisis Magazine.

Stephen Baskerville


Stephen Baskerville is Professor of Government at Patrick Henry College and Research Fellow at the Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society, the Independent Institute, and the Inter-American Institute. He holds a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics and attends an Anglican parish in Virginia. His most recent book The New Politics of Sex: Civil Liberties and the Growth of Governmental Power is published by Angelico Press.

  • Mother of Two Sons

    No-Fault Divorces for many are/were an attempt to keep the details of their LOVELESS Marriage from painful public display. I would say it is the LOVELESS Marriage and the number of them being faithfully and painfully endured that does the most damage to the Christian Witness. Since Christian Marriage is to be a mirror of Christ’s relationship to His Body the Church, I don’t think that is a Loveless endurance contest! We are in need of LOVING Models that include physical visible measurable signs everyday…. not invisible not measurable words.

    Anything can be argued when LOVING Unions cannot be documented as existing in society’s traditionally accepted forms. Everyone seeks to love and be loved in a manner that is consistently reliable, mutual and continuous.

    Our Church lacks a support system that nurtures loving relationships and spiritual development throughout the various stages of Marriage and Family. Perhaps 2009 will be an opportunity to research and develop such a net of support!

  • scotch meg

    If we are to change our approach to divorce, it’s important to recognize that divorces initiated by the wives are not all of one piece. Consider three divorces within one family, all initiated by the wife:

    1) After twenty-three years of marriage, the youngest child is a legal adult and college student. The marriage has included physical abuse (by husband) and mental abuse (by wife).

    2) After thirteen years of marriage, wife is tired of husband’s unusual views and what she perceives to be poor work ethic.

    3) After twenty years of marriage, alcoholic husband has begun drinking again, lost job, and begun affair (wife may not know about latter, although others do).

    In two of these instances, the wife would be able to obtain a divorce under the older, stricter standards. There are problems that go deeper than the law. Both the law and the culture need changing!

  • Karen
  • Karen

    “Most” men have “no clue” that their wives want to leave. Children “recall” happy home lives before their parents divorce. Evidence that a man beats his wife is “fabricated.” This article is a mish-mash of bald assertions couched in conditional language and without any actual evidence to support them. Are there any actual peer-reviewed studies that you can cite with a link that demonstrate from objective evidence, i.e. something other than their own self-serving descriptions of what happened, that some significant number of men really don’t know their wives are unhappy enough to leave? Do you genuinely believe that there are huge numbers of women whimsically volunteering for the reduction in economic status a divorce holds for them?

    The reason there are different standards of proof in divorces based on domestic violence and criminal prosecutions is because there are different standards of proof in ALL civil cases. OJ Simpson, that paragon of a Christian husband, was held “liable” for his wife’s death in a civil case but isn’t on death row because civil cases require only a “preponderance of the evidence.” If her testimony that he beat her is better than his denials, she wins even without corroborating medical evidence.

    More significantly, the reason feminists argue for a different standard of evidence is because women have less money than men do, especially women in traditional sex roles. In fact, women in traditional sex roles have no power or money at all. That’s the traditional part; women are helpless. Consequently, they are terrified of sending the men who routinely beat them to prison. Starvation is a more painful death than beating, after all. They do, however, if possible want to avoid the routine assaults, so divorce allows them an escape but with some money as a compensation. The monster isn’t in prison, but he’s also out of the house.

    I have some advice to the Baskervilles of the world: if you’re not a complete jerk, your wife won’t leave you. Also, if you take care to marry someone whose personality you like, and you’ve known as an adult long enough to understand whether or not you like her, you will likely not be divorced. Marry someone who’s your educational and economic equal. Finally, do half the housework and childcare, and do it with a good attitude and don’t expect the Congressional Medal of Honor for being able to sort laundry. For women, don’t try to follow the plot of “Notting Hill” or Harlequin romances as the script for marriage. Look for the same thing in a husband you’d look for in a business partner. Don’t be dramatic, for any reason, ever, unless you’re actually in a play and told to do so by the director. For both men and women, you wont’ die if you aren’t married. Be a decent human first and you’ll find that being in a relationship is much, much, simpler.

  • Ann

    This article has a fathers’ rights aspect to it, which I agree with in some measure, but men walk out too (or make it impossible for women to stay).

    Anyhow, Great Andrew Sullivan quote and that is why I don’t get too worked up over gay marriage. We, heteros, have destroyed marriage quite nicely all on our own, thank you very much. Another great quote: “People who won’t censure divorce carry no special weight as defenders of marriage,” writes columnist Froma Harrop. “Moral authority doesn’t come cheap.”

    Effect on children: I’m a product of a no-fault divorce and looking back, my own mother regretted it (she was the one who initiated it). Barring abuse, I would wager children are happier in marriages where both parents are there. Divorce is just one big ride straight into poverty. However, I also believer that while separation and divorce are sometimes necessary, and inflict damage, the worst stories I have heard are from children whose parents remarried after the divorce. Thank God my parents did not remarry, it is the one saving grace of the whole debacle.

    The other thing is, with regards to children, sure, living in a house where parents don’t love each other stinks, but the idea that either can walk out at any time makes the parents less likely to try. If it was harder to get out, maybe people would try a little harder to love.

    While no-fault divorce laws are certainly the catalyst for the destruction of the family, I believe that the internet is the next biggest enemy of the family, if it is not already here. P*rn online, on demand, meeting people online to have affairs with, on and on…sure these things always existed, but now there are no barriers against them.

  • g

    Mr Baskerville, FYI…your arguments would be more effective if you’d make an attempt to stop writing from the “poor male” prespective. I’m sure all your assertions against “feminism” are correct but, at least in my own fam, ALL the divorces in the last 30 yrs have been initiated by the poor males, most of whom have been married for over 20 yrs & simply decided they wanted trophy brides. So, once again, Feminism = Misogyny.

  • R.C.


    This statement, in your post, is sadly not always true:

    I have some advice to the Baskervilles of the world: if you’re not a complete jerk, your wife won’t leave you.

    The reason it’s not always true is because women are free-willed individuals, not robots who’ll perform as expected if the correct buttons are pushed.

    Some very hardworking, brave, warm-hearted, and generous husbands in this world have been betrayed or abandoned by their wives, not because the husband was a jerk, but because the wife was. It’s rare, but it happens.

    And of course it happens the other direction, also. I’m not picking on wives, here.

    Because human beings aren’t automatons, and the fact that one spouse is holding up their end of the bargain doesn’t mean that spouse Y can’t help but do the same.

    Heck, in at least one case I know of, the husband was literally The Perfect Man, and yet His Bride continually, frequently, wandered, despite His love.

    (Don’t believe it? Stop by your local Perpetual Adoration and ask Him yourself!)

  • Tony Esolen

    When I was married, I made a vow that I would remain true to my wife until death. That vow was unconditional. I made that vow before God and man. Now the Church allows for separations to safeguard the lives and limbs of innocent sufferers. But a vow is a vow; and if we would but understand that, we’d save ourselves a lot of heartache. Unless, that is, we do not trust the promises of God.

  • Natmom

    This excellent article reminds me of an argument I’ve made only half jokingly about how to handle the issue of gay “marriage”. Repeal the divorce laws in all 50 states, then allow gays to marry! I’m pretty sure there wouldn’t be any takers. Of course, there might not be many heterosexuals who would enter into marriage under those circumstances either. If true, a sad commentary.

  • Mike
  • Mike

    “Gays don’t want a marriage that means something, only the watered-down version that exists today.”

    This is COMPLETELY misleading and false. Don’t assume what people want unless you are one of those people or are good friends with one of those people.

  • Bruce Roeder

    on an often overlooked aspect of the attack on marriage, namely divorce on demand.

    Yes, the majority of people entering into the sacarament of Holy Matrimony have such a poor understanding of what the sacrament is, that there are certainly many marriages in a sad state.

    Such a sad sate that we can not articulate what about marriage deserves defending. Is it really just a legal agreement between two people who mutually consent to live together in love? Of course not! Matrimony is a sacramental gift of self, pledged before Almighty God, wherein each person gives themself freely, fully, fruitfuly, and forever. It is oriented towards the making of families and the education of children.

    Look at a crucifix and you will see this gift of life-giving love.

    Consider the wisdom of the Church in her constant teaching on adultery, fornication, homosexual acts, contraception, IVF, masturbation, pornography, and — yes — divorce. Not to say everyone obeys these teachings perfectly. We obviously do not. But to see marriage for the objective reality of what it is — that is crucial to defend it in the culture.

    And we are doing a poor job of it.

    It is difficult to argue same-sex “marriage” is wrong and argue that couples living together without being married is wise, contraception is a societal good, pornography is a matter of freedom of speech, and abortion is a woman’s choice over her own body, and so on. Which we have done for decades and decades. It’s a bit late in the battle to defend marriage.

    so while it is not a great surprise that we find ourselves here, it seems to be a greater, more foundational, task that we might think to defend marriage against homosexuals demanding to make their vows on the steps of city hall.

  • My name is withheld

    I definitely agree that no fault divorce is disastrous. I and my FOUR children were abandoned by husband/father. I had 4 children under the age of 8.

    Who helped him? The Catholic priest in our parish who told him “If you think there’s something there stay, if not leave.” THe Catholic counsellor who encouraged him to leave to “find” himself. The Catholic lawyer who encouraged him to ruin my father financially and to not honour the separation agreement drawn up and ordered by the court (why on earth would I expect him to “honour” anything). The Catholic judge who thought that yes I was a great mom, but that the homeschooling was a source of conflict and should end (my ex was the one who suggested we homeschool and he did not like the fact that I was continuing to teach them strong Catholic values). The Catholic social worker, who couldn’t understand WHY I would possibly be wearing my wedding ring four years after we were separated and my husband (he had not initiated divorce proceedings) was engaged (you got it – ENGAGED) to another woman while still married to me.

    Our marriage was a disaster. But for the sake of our children we should have stayed together and he should have sought the help he so dearly needed. Then we could have gone for marriage counselling and help by a good solid priest.

    Despite having 3 university degrees (I returned to school to get my third and reskill) I cannot find fulltime work and if it weren’t for the fact that he makes tons of money now, we would be dearly impoverished. My future, once my children are grown, is very uncertain, financially. Since I was not able to return to the workforce until age 48, I simply don’t have the skills needed to compete with younger workers. And ageism is a factor.

    The most hideous thing I saw in court: a divorce proceeding between a husband and wife. The wife had just survived breast cancer and had developed an heart murmur. The husband was having an affair with her best friend and decided to leave her after she finished chemo. The judge and two male lawyers stood there debating how it was this woman’s obligation at 58 to go out and seek work to support herself. His obligation: a mere $800 per month in support. Talk about a kick to the head!

    Until these laws are changed the innocent party will always be crushed. I refused to sign any divorce papers. I certainly had many grounds for cruelty during our marriage, but our divorce papers state “irreconciable differences” – I guess meaning I didn’t accept that infidelity, dishonesty in all aspects of his life and mental abuse were acceptable ways for a Catholic husband to act.

  • Ann

    It is difficult to argue same-sex “marriage” is wrong and argue that couples living together without being married is wise, contraception is a societal good, pornography is a matter of freedom of speech, and abortion is a woman’s choice over her own body, and so on. Which we have done for decades and decades. It’s a bit late in the battle to defend marriage.

    This is precisely why the anti-gay-marriage folks look like hypocrites and bigots IMO.

    Let’s try to tackle some of those other problems that really are a threat to marriage first. Namely, heteros destroying their own marriages as they please, because we live in a culture of instant gratification, with no value placed on duty and honor.

  • Ann

    To My name is withheld,

    Yes, women certainly bought themselves a Pandora’s box with no-fault divorce. Namely the “go-on-out-and-support-YOURSELF” stance of the law and family courts, even though he left you, and you’ve been dedicating your work to the family all those years, etc.

    I know a woman who had a back injury and her husband left her because she couldn’t SCUBA with him, a newly found activity he found in his sixties. Because not being able to scuba is clearly grounds to dump your wife. And yes, she was told to go find a job, even though she had fulfilled all of her duties to the family, including being an at-home wife and mother for their three children for the past 25 years.

    Sorry for your difficulties and I wish the best for you in the future. I’m sure you will tackle whatever challenges are ahead with courage.

  • Karen

    My heart goes out to you, and to the breast cancer victim. I don’t know where you live, but if your state has one, I encourage you to contact the Women’s Advocacy Project, to see if one of their lawyers can help you.

    Also, for everyone, one modification of the laws that everyone should support is the adoption of community property. This is system of family property which assigns title ownership of everything acquired during the marriage except gifts or inheritances to BOTH spouses. Salary is presumed to belong to both parties. While it won’t make divorce go away, it should at least make it very expensive.

  • My name is withheld

    I am Canadian. Thank you to Ann and Karen for your kind comments. And I forgot to mention that the breast cancer survivor was married and a stay-at-home mom for 35 years. So I’m sure her chances of getting a self-supporting job were virtually nil. I dearly wish I knew what has become of this poor woman.
    One thing I had to do before I went to court (he tried to get custody after abandoning them!)was to go into counselling at a, (you guessed it)Catholic counselling center. I was in with about 8 other women, ALL of whom abandoned their husbands. They had many problems with their children – because children are not stupid. They know who LEAVES! It was very disheartening to say the least.

    And to Ann: yes I cannot really be much of a participant in the same-sex marriage debate because of course the question always comes up – “If you value marriage so much, why are you divorced?”
    It’s a valid one to be sure but with unilateral no-fault divorce, a person CAN have no say in the matter. I was told by my lawyer it would not even be worth it to dispute the divorce papers in court because inevitably he would be granted the divorce.
    When my ex told me he was going to leave I told him he couldn’t. That he had made a promise to me infront of God, our families and friends. His answer: he was sick when he made the vows!
    Ah well.

  • Ann

    Oh yes, the children know who did it. Always.

    At least that poor woman who survived breast cancer will have health insurance, since I am assuming this took place in Canada. She wouldn’t be so lucky here.

    All the best to you.

  • Geoffrey Miller

    “When my ex told me he was going to leave I told him he couldn’t. That he had made a promise to me infront of God, our families and friends. His answer: he was sick when he made the vows!”

    I look forward with somewhat sadistic anticipation to seeing how well this excuse will fly on judgement day. Methinks that Christ will only be moved if your husband admits his mistake and repents before he dies.

  • My name is withheld

    Geoffrey: in this day and age, any excuse will do, you know. As one of my friends stated, “Yes and just how SICK was he?” Other relevant excuses I was given were that he “just wanted to have fun” and that he could be “a better part-time parent”. uh huh![smiley=tongue]

    Since I am Catholic, my main concern is with the Catholic church and how it deals with troubled marriages. I believe that we need to have couples who can minister to couples in crisis, as we obviously were. My husband had made the decision long, long before he actually began to verbalize his intentions. By the time he announced his decision to leave, he had already left the marriage emotionally. While it would have been difficult to address the issues at this stage, that is what crisis management is all about – dealing with crises!

    We also need to have Catholic counsellors who counsel with the INTENTION of keeping the marriage together and repecting the marriage vows. At the time, I had spoken with the wife of a well known Catholic doctor in our area and she told me that she did not know of a single marriage that had survived intact post-counselling (something I have lately read on the Internet). If the purpose of counselling is self-actualization then the marriage will not survive. Marriage is all about the gift of oneself to your spouse. Modern psychology does not support this kind of thinking.

    This article does have a decidedly pro-father stance. I don’t know of very many women who have left husbands. I know only of women who have been abandoned by their husbands for another more suitable model of the wife.
    It is my understanding that while many women file for divorce they do so only AFTER they have been abandoned by the husband. I therefore dispute the premise in this article that women are the cause of divorce, which is the notion I take from reading this reading.

    In my case, I never filed for divorce, since I do not believe in divorce and as a Catholic this was against my marriage vows.

    Perhaps my brother stated it best: the person who leaves without just, serious and provable cause, should lose all rights. They should be forced to compensate the injured spouse and contribute to the support of the children. I honestly believe that my ex is quite shocked at the incredible financial cost to himself in the form of child support and spousal support. Whether this would have been a deterrant to him leaving and a motivation for working on the marriage, I will never know.

  • Ann

    You are so right about counseling. In modern psychobabble, I mean psychotherapy, there is no talk of honor or duty or community, only what the individual needs to feel good.

    And many counselors will just keep on riding the money train for as long as they can, because they know how it’s all going to end eventually.

  • David W.

    I too am a staunch opponent of No-Fault Divorce, and would have no problems repealing all the laws…I find the phrase “Irreconciliable Differences” to be laughable, one worthy only of scorn and contempt (Another one being “I love you, but I’m not IN love with you”).

    Marriage is a Sacrament, a life long commitment that cannot be entered into hastily. “Work it out” may sound curt and unfeeling, but I don’t believe in coddling people who do something stupid. I am a firm believer in “Boot in the ass” tough love, and there was a time when the Church didn’t shy away from enacting it. You marry a woman (or woman marry a man)…THAT IS IT. Physical Abuse has always been an exception/reason for seperation…as the author pointed out well, so that trump card has been answered there. Because he won’t put the toilet seat up, or she has an annoying habit of calling your cell phone every 15 minutes is not grounds for Divorce, nor should our society suffer this sniveling nonsense any longer.

  • Name withheld

    Please click on the link if you are contemplating divorce.

  • Name withheld

    Sorry about the missing link.

  • meg

    I am a product of divorce, so I know how ugly it is, especially for children. Perhaps part of the problem is that people no longer dread it, seem unaware of the ugly after-effects – it’s all about “right now”. And no one talks about the terrible after-effects because personal happiness is so revered in this country that the ramifications of divorce, for one’s own children and for society in general, take a back seat.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that there was a time when people dreaded divorce partly because you were guaranteed to get a hard time about leaving your wife/husband from your parents, siblings, best friend, parish priest, etc etc. – everyone would be on your back and this would aid the person in doing the right thing (i.e. staying in the marriage). There was also accepted wisdom that it was a bad idea in general that should be avoided at all costs passed down through generations, with scary stories to back it up. Not so anymore.

    Maybe we should start getting on each other’s backs about it again!

  • Susan

    What a great bunch of comments.

    Yes, gays would not be clamoring for marriage if the institution hadn’t already disintegrated into a “temporal romance” contract. And yes, no-fault divorce law erased the “permanence stipulation” of marriage–a stipulation that is essential in helping us heterosexuals keep our commitment to the often-difficult project of raising families.

    To Mother of Two Sons, I would say that committed love is the only “love” that really matters in a life-long project like marriage. Sadly, most people think marriage is about romance and attraction, not the hard work of raising families. If engaged couples went to the altar thinking that they were pledging to raise kids with their partner forever, they might not be so disappointed when the difficult task gets underway a year or so later. The two words “marriage” and “family” need to become synonymous in the minds of young people, if marriage is to make a comeback.

    To Karen, most people have no idea how economically and personally devastating divorce is to spouses and kids. (In most cases, divorce is “out of the frying pan and into the fire.”) Divorce creates new and chronic problems for everyone. Better just to work on the first marriage/family, even if its emotionally difficult. Also, you gave great advice on choosing a mate. Making sure you like the personality of the person you’re with is key, and paying attention to similarity in class and education are also vital to long-term spousal enjoyment. But above all, when two people know they are getting married for the explicit purpose of raising a Catholic family together, that family orientation/purpose/mission trumps all. The family focus shared by both spouses can keep the marriage on track, despite personality differences and conflicts.

    To Ann, Meg, and others, great stuff.

  • Beth

    I think there are other reasons besides physical abuse someone should seek divorce, doesn’t the Church list infidelty as one?

    Also, consider permanent separation. Having grown up with a mom with a severe mental illness who refused treatment I have seen first hand the kind of damage that can be done to kids. At times a spouse as a responsibility to the mental and physical health of their kids.

    After seeing the divorces of too many faithful Catholic couples I have also realized their is ALWAYS 2 sides to every story.

    Lastly, I think all women would benefit from having a marketable skill. For many reasons, not to prepare for divorce but it is a wise thing to do.

  • Brother of a gay man

    “Yes, gays would not be clamoring for marriage if the institution hadn’t already disintegrated into a “temporal romance” contract. And yes, no-fault divorce law erased the “permanence stipulation” of marriage–a stipulation that is essential in helping us heterosexuals keep our commitment to the often-difficult project of raising families.”

    This really isn’t an accurate description of why gays are going after marriage. Gays are going after marriage because they want the ability to be a part of the institution, not because it is clamored down, but because they want to stay committed. As said earlier by Mike, don’t assume you know what a person wants or thinks unless you are one of those people.

    This would be a better description of why people in hollywood keep getting married imo. Stop assuming what the gays want.

  • Susan

    Brother of gay man,

    I think you may have overlooked the author’s good point, which is that homosexuals do not want access to traditional marriage, which was always defined as an indissoluble family-raising contract. Rather, they want access to progressive marriage, which is nothing more than state-sponsored approval of temporal romances and/or cohabitations. These are entirely different enterprises with entirely different functions and goals.

    Prior to the 1970s, gays could never have imagined wanting marriage, which was a family-raising enterprise/partnership. But the modern application of marriage–a temporary romance contract with state benefits–is quite attractive, not only to gays, but to any group of people who might live under the same roof for a time. I can see why any demographic group would want access to such a contract.

    Nevertheless, the redefinition of the marriage institution has devastating consequences to society, and no-fault divorce radically altered what marriage is and means. Heterosexual couples cannot survive long without various stipulations of traditional marriage law that compel them to fulfill their their long-term commitments to spouses and kids. New gay marriage offers no such stipulations.

    Life-long enterprises require permanent contracts that (1) define the duties and rights of each partner and (2) levy stiff penalties against the partner who commits breach of contract. Contracts must offer these two basic components to protect the partners from abandonment, neglect, and fraud.

  • Mother of Two Sons

    When I think of Heaven, it is a state of being and a place that is to be enjoyed in this life if we are to believe the Our Father prayer we all pray: “Thy Kingdom Come on Earth as it is in Heaven”. The problem is that we don’t believe it and so we settle for so much less. My point about Loveless marriages is not speaking of sexless marriages (which is one symptom of a Loveless marriage) or as Susan inferred, the fading of the honeymoon stage once Real Life starts. If I am to believe that why would I want to go to Heaven, or believe there is a Heaven. Jesus stated many many times that the Kingdom of Heaven would manifest here on earth if and when….. I hope that FAITH in Thy Kingdom Come will emerge and love-filled living will emerge and permeate our Church! Now, that will be transformative and make it almost unnecessary to evangelize, lead souls to Jesus with deep theological arguments! Love-filled living is a lot of work for our culture, so soft. impulsive and lacking in discipline.

  • meg

    As said earlier by Mike, don’t assume you know what a person wants or thinks unless you are one of those people.

    We all have to do this to some extent or none of us could have an opinion on anything outside the sphere of our own lives; our ideas are formed through personal experience, through observing other human interaction, and most importantly through Catholic teachings. From a Catholic standpoint, gay marriage is problematic, I’m sure you realize this.

    But I do believe you are right that some gay couples have only good intentions in wanting to marry. Unfortunately, they are outnumbered (in the press anyway) by the activists, who are clearly using gay marriage as a stepping stone to other gay “rights”, beginning with presenting gay marriage as a normal to young school children (already happening in Mass.), creating hate speech laws that would forbid speaking out against homosexuality from the pulpit (already happening in Canada), and ending who knows where.

  • Susan

    Sadly, the “fading of the honeymoon stage” is sinking countless marriages today, as young couples have nothing more than romantic fantasies in mind for marriage. Few survive the transition to reality.

    We need to teach youth that mere romantic attraction is not what marriage is about–marriage is all about raising families. We must teach that “love” is keeping one’s commitments to provide, to nurture, and to never leave–even if “fun and romance” have left for a while. In other words, we must constantly state the obvious, for Christian social norms have broken down, and vital information on marriage and family must now be passed on verbally and explicitly.

    When it comes to marriage, “love” is best understood as never-wavering commitment to others through good times and bad. Anything else is hate, when it comes to marriage and family.

  • MJS

    There are actually some resources in the Church (not enough!!) to help marriages that are having trouble. Most US dioceses have a Retrouvaille program, which actually does try to help people fix their marriages. And there ARE good counselors out there, who want to and CAN help people fix marriage issues. Try I know not all therapists are helpful but some actually are! I would hate for someone to see some of the above posts and give up hope. Marriage problems can be fixed and sometimes, people need help to know how to do that.

  • Ann

    Good point on Retrouvaille.

    Personally, I still think that people, especially women, should be very, very careful about seeking marriage counseling.

  • Beth

    Ann, you are right women should be discerning about which counselor to go to. However, there are many situations where a woman must seek counsel and we shouldn’t scare someone away from that. I shutter at some of the situations I have seen and would definitely recommend someone seek professional help.

    Retrouvaille is excellent, so I have heard. A pretty dismal picture was painted of counseling but there are individuals who have been helped by it.

  • Ann

    I agree Beth. Counseling has its place. But caution is always a good thing, especially when one thinks about the amount of money that it costs.

  • My name is withheld

    MJS: I am writing from the Canadian experience. Unfortunately, we have very few prolife doctors here and I personally know of only 3 good Catholic therapists in my province. The faithful Catholic community is, as you probably know, quite small and it soon becomes known where there is a good doctor. I managed to find an excellent therapist whom I went to see 4 years after our separation. Although she specialized in sexual abuse, I went to her anyway because there were no other options. She is a devout Catholic and attended Mass EVERY day prior to seeing her clients. It was an incredibly affirming experience for me – by that I mean affirming in my faith. She gave me good advice and helped me to learn how to deal with my ex.[smiley=tongue]
    I agree with the fact that divorce just creates more problems. And many people take the problems that led to the first marriage breakdown into the next relationship.
    And there are two sides to the story but that doesn’t always mean the blame is equal. My fault was marrying the cad in the first place – after my mom warned me not to. I honestly thought he was “my guy”.[smiley=tongue]

  • Jason

    I hope people are still checking this thread here and there, because I need some resources.

    Can anyone recommend a book(s) on how divorce affects the children? Some people will say that children are better off with a divorce than staying in a loveless or fractious home with two warring parents. Others have said the opposite – that despite how bad it is, it’s usually better for the kids in the long run that the parents stay together. I’d like to read something objective, if possible. Or at least research claiming to support both sides.

    Coincidentally, I have just re-established contact with an old high school friend of mine who, I discover, is having marital difficulties. It seems to be her husband and his sense of not being “satisfied” or fulfilled” – sort of like the woman who wrote the “frivolousdivorce” blog referenced above, only in this case, it’s the husband. They have 2 kids, and the wife (my friend) is asking about something to read that indicates the effect of divorce on kids.

    Any recommendations (and prayers for them) would be appreciated. Please e-mail me at jason (dot) negri (at) gmail (dot) com. Thank you!