New York recently became the fiftieth state to allow no-fault divorce — an occasion that prompted New York resident Beverly Willett to reflect on her experience fighting to save her own marriage from divorce eight years ago. It was a grueling, five-year-long battle against a husband who had cheated on her and wanted out on the one hand, and a court system that told her just to let go of her vows on the other — when all she wanted was the chance to work on the marriage for the sake of their family. The ordeal only ended when her husband moved to New Jersey and took advantage of that state’s no-fault laws to end their marriage unilaterally.
Willett reflects on what no-fault divorce has wrought on our society:
We would never stand for arranged marriages, so why do we tolerate unilateral divorce, where the power rests in one person’s hands to vote on behalf of the whole family? If no-fault is good, why do we have the highest divorce rate of any Western nation? Why is the divorce rate for second marriages even higher? Studies show most “unhappy” marriages ride out the storm. No-fault removes that option.
There are practical reasons against no-fault, too. Divorce reduces life-span. No-fault won’t end litigation either, just shape-shift it as the litigation instead focuses on economics. And women and children are worse off financially after divorce, as they always have been, even those finally able to extricate themselves from domestic abuse.
Some say no-fault divorce would have been to my benefit. My legal bills might be less. But no-fault divorce takes away a woman’s bargaining chips when her husband decides he wants to ditch her. No-fault assumes that removing choice from the equation will lead to less acrimony, but that’s too simplistic. It assumes the only reason parties would ever hold up a divorce is to angle for money. It tosses aside the notion that one might want to stay married because of one’s pledge, or for the sake of the children. . . .
[N]o-fault isn’t the answer. It won’t cure our national preoccupation with searching for happiness in greener pastures–the root cause of rampant divorce–any more than a fault-based system of divorce can. We’ve created a happiness culture without understanding what that means or how to achieve it. Ditch your spouse and eat, pray, love your way to the next one.
The only thing more discouraging than Willett’s experience are the comments on her article: The majority thinks she is literally insane for wanting to make her husband keep his promise to his wife and family. “I assume this woman has this pathetic view of marriage because of some religious sense of marriage as a sacrament,” one reader sniffs. In fact, Willett didn’t strike me as overly religious — just someone who thinks that vows should mean something. That such a position could be considered crazy shows just how much damage has been done to the idea of marriage through our no-fault culture.