Modern Divorce Laws, A Brief History

July 9, 2013

For much of American History, divorce was a somewhat uncommon event. Legality surrounding divorce varied in accordance with state law, but for the most part divorce was only allowed in instances where an innocent party was wronged. For example, if you could prove in a court of law that your spouse was cheating on you, you had legal grounds for divorce. On the other hand, if you found your relationship was no longer viable, well, you had to tough it out.

Until the 1970’s brought a wave of divorce reforms. “Between 1970 and 1975, more than half of the states adopted some modern no-fault ground for divorce, and by 1985, every American jurisdiction except one had adopted some gerally available, explicit non-fault ground for divorce” (Wardle 79). The direct and almost immediate effect of this liberalization of the law was a sharp increase in divorce. In 1965, 10.6 married women out of every thousand brought an end their marriage. By 1979, that rate had more than doubled, to 22.8 per thousand (Furstenberg). This trend reflects a new attitude towards marriage; if it is not working, don’t force it.

Everyone has repeated the statistic that 50% of modern marriages will end in divorce. Women and men who are have lost the desire to maintain their relationship are no longer required to stay in that relationship. While I believe that this is a good thing, marriage does provide benefits to both spouses. Even in marriages where the emotional support system is gone, there is still a physical support system. This manifests itself in the domestic labor that many women perform for their families, financial support for housewives or a dual income for families where both partners work, and shared parenting duties for those couples with children. So what is to happen to these men and women when their support systems crumble?

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