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March 18, 2013

No Fault Divorce and Child Support: Myths and Facts

Whilst reading a post on marriage over at Elise's place, I was reminded of two old posts that have been getting a lot of links lately. One of them touched on an observation made by David French over at the National Review (see Elise's post for the link):

I agree with Tim’s explanations, but I’d like to add another. After more than a generation of no-fault divorce, the very concept of “traditional marriage” is seeping out of our cultural DNA, replaced, sadly, by the core conviction that marriage is no longer a covenant, but a contract — specifically a contract for the fulfillment and enjoyment of adults.

I see pervasive misconceptions about the effect of no fault divorce on the divorce rate all the time on conservative sites. This is not particularly surprising. Before I did the research, I, too, believed no fault was largely responsible for the decline of traditional marriage. Inconveniently for my cherished illusions, it's pretty obvious from looking at the data that some of us (to paraphrase Ronald Reagan) know an awful lot of things that just aren't so:

If no fault divorce laws incent more women to leave their marriages, shouldn't we see an increase in divorce rates following the advent of no fault?... Note that the steepest rate of increase in divorces occurs during time periods before no fault existed. Beginning with the passage of no fault laws in ONE state - California - and continuing as no fault spreads to 9 states and then to 48 of the 50 states, the slope of the divorce rate curve decreases and then goes negative (i.e., the divorce rate declines).

The long term divorce trends are even more compelling:

...if we extrapolate the long term trend for divorce rates, we find that present rates of divorce are entirely consonant with what statisticians would have predicted long before feminism or no fault came along to harsh the collective mellows of so-called beta males.

A frequent tactic of the simple/single cause supporter is to truncate long term historical trends, notably beginning with an unrepresentative period for marriages and divorces in the US: the 1950s. I'm not sure whether this is deliberate or simply lazy but there's no denying that the practice conveniently airbrushes away over a century of steadily and rapidly rising divorce rates.

Speaking of misinformation, "what everyone knows" about the divorce rate itself is suspect:

A false conclusion in the 1970s that half of all first marriages ended in divorce was based on the simple but completely wrong analysis of the marriage and divorce rates per 1,000 people in the United States. A similar abuse of statistical analysis led to the conclusion that 60 percent of all second marriages ended in divorce.

These errors have had a profound impact on attitudes about marriage in our society and it is a terrible injustice that there wasn’t more of an effort to get accurate data (essentially only obtainable by following a significant number of couples over time and measuring the outcomes) or that newer, more accurate and optimistic data isn’t being heavily reported in the media.

It is now clear that the divorce rate in first marriages probably peaked at about 40 percent for first marriages around 1980 and has been declining since to about 30 percent in the early 2000s. This is a dramatic difference. Rather than viewing marriage as a 50-50 shot in the dark it can be viewed as having a 70 percent likelihood of succeeding. But even to use that kind of generalization, i.e., one simple statistic for all marriages, grossly distorts what is actually going on.

Ah, if only we could go back to the good old days when women married young (and up!, whatever that means).

The second post dealt with Child Support/Custody Facts & Figures. It contrasts popular (often anecdotally based) perceptions about custody and child support with studies looking at thousands of actual custody and child support awards. It's surprising how much misinformation is out there.

A few examples:

What percentage of custodial mothers and fathers have any form of child support agreement? Only half: 50.6%

What percentage of the average custodial parent's total income comes from child support? About one-sixth, or 16.1%

Did you know that:

* The average monthly child support award/payment (support awarded, but not necessarily paid) is $496. The most generous possible comparison would be to low income families, though this average reflects all income levels. (Source)

* The average monthly child support actually received (support paid) is only $303? Again, The most generous possible comparison would be to low income families, though this average reflects all income levels. (Source)

* This study looked at the average monthly cost of raising a child for households at various income levels over a child's lifetime:

* lower income parents: $791
* middle class parents: $1125
* upper income parents: $1875

To help put this into perspective, let's look at monthly average non-custodial child support payments owed and paid against the average monthly cost of raising a single child:

cost_vs_support.png

How do we get things so wrong? A strong possibility is availability bias - sensationalistic stories are covered more by the media than the average case (that's why they're news). And they upset us, so we remember them. But there's also our own tendency to pay more attention to news that confirms our pre-existing beliefs and ignore news that undermines them.

A third possibility is the absence of perspective. If we don't know how many fathers ask for custody (or how many custody cases end up in court, as opposed to being settled by agreement of the parties), how can we possibly make informed decisions about what a "fair" outcome looks like?

Posted by Cassandra at March 18, 2013 06:16 PM

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Comments

That's a Josh Billings quote. "It ain't ignorance that causes so much trouble. It's folks knowin' so much that ain't so."

Posted by: Tom at March 18, 2013 10:06 PM

I've suspected for a while now that modern media, and the Internet most of all, is gawdawful for availability bias and confirmation bias. These days, the media seems at times like an imp on one's shoulder, whispering every bad thing that happens anywhere, as it happens. No wonder people think the world's more dangerous now than when they were kids -- the media casts such a wide net looking for bad news. And a quick internet search regarding the social-disaster-du-jour can turn up a number of anecdotes that would be very alarming if they all happened in a small community rather than a nation of 300 million.

Posted by: Matt at March 19, 2013 04:59 AM

Tom, I was thinking of this line from A Time for Choosing:

Well, the trouble with our liberal friends is not that they are ignorant, but that they know so much that isn’t so.

But like so many quotes that are attributed to a famous person when someone else said them first, maybe I should have quoted Josh Billings!

Posted by: Cassandra at March 19, 2013 07:14 AM

Matt, I do think the Internet has had an amplifying effect on the media. The selectivity with which they hype one story and ignore others of equal (and sometimes greater) significance is compounded when you have a gazillion people with their own megaphones posting outrageous/shocking stories on Facebook, blogs, and Twitter.

It never seems to occur to a lot of these folks that if such stories were truly representative, they wouldn't be "news".

Posted by: Cassandra at March 19, 2013 07:16 AM

Wow, it will take a while to grasp all this.


Or I can take the easy was out and say that after the localized peak that ended WWII and a following increase, global warming stopped when Reagan took office...

Posted by: tomg51 at March 19, 2013 08:31 AM

easy WAY

Posted by: tom51 at March 19, 2013 08:31 AM

I always thought this was a Mark Twain quote in the form:

It's not what a man doesn't know that makes him a damn fool; it's what he does know that just ain't so.

In poking around, however, I discovered a wonderful book called The Quote Verifier which does in fact - according to the excerpt at Amazon - credit Josh Billings. I've put the book on my wish list - although I still like the fake Twain version of the quote.

Posted by: Elise at March 19, 2013 09:41 AM

On the child support payments: I wonder how many $0s were included in the average as the non-custodial parent was judgement proof (in jail, unemployed, etc).

Or if those aren't included at all because the custodial parent already knows (or the lawyer should) that the case would be pointless.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 19, 2013 11:12 AM

That is a very good question, but there shouldn't be any zeros in the amounts awarded - only collected.

If there were a large number of zeros, I'd expect the delta between awarded/paid to be larger, but that's just a gut-feel response, not something I've checked out.

I'll check when I get a free moment!

Posted by: Cassandra at March 19, 2013 11:33 AM

You have convinced me no-fault divorce didn't lead to more divorces. I remain stalwart in believing no-fault divorce damaged the institution. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one to have noticed that facilitating the 'getting out of' diminishes that 'gotten into' – see Islamic marriage vis-à-vis Islam itself. No-fault divorce has made of marriage a whim - a whim for the vow, and a publicly expressed whim for the dissolution. The people who make these rules of etiquette might wish to look into the muslim world – "Talaq" – you are divorced. I hear now you can text message it. Of course, in so fully enlightened a po mo culture as ours, women would be allowed to "talaq".

Posted by: George Pal at March 19, 2013 12:12 PM

That is a very good question, but there shouldn't be any zeros in the amounts awarded - only collected.

I was thinking more along the lines of A sues B for support, Judge dismisses case as B has no ability to pay. I guess technically child support isn't "awarded" in the case. And that's kind of my question. How is this case handled. Is it withheld (NULL) and doesn't count at all. Or would it be included in the denominator even though there is no "awarded" (0).

But yes, the amount paid would also be interesting to see. My guess would be that it's nearly an all or nothing proposition. Breakdowns of the non-payers would be interesting too. How many can afford to pay but don't (strategic defaulters) and how many don't have the funds themselves (lost job, defaulting on other loans).

30% is a heck of a delinquency rate, but we already know that someone in that relationship doesn't do too well with that whole keeping your committments thing.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 19, 2013 01:29 PM

I remain stalwart in believing no-fault divorce damaged the institution.

Well now that, I can't really comment upon. All I can say is that there's no evidence that no fault increased the divorce rate. Whether it somehow causes people to be less likely to marry in the first place... well, that's another question :)

Another aspect of any such study that is all too often ignored is demographics:

1. The population is aging. Using unadjusted "marriage/divorce per 1000 people" rates doesn't account for differences in the composition of the population over time.

2. The ethnic mix has changed over time, and differences in marital stability are stark between different groups.

Because it's so difficult to control for variables like age or race/ethnicity, I really think the only valid way to study either rate would be to follow a sizable sample of folks who didn't know they were being studied over time.

Thos. Sowell writes about the same problem with income mobility studies - if all you do is look at how many folks are in the bottom income quintile over time, you know NOTHING about movement between quintiles (the very thing you're *supposed* to be studying!).

Though personally I believe that divorce should be more difficult, I don't know how I'd feel about going back to the old fault grounds. They absolutely did make it harder to divorce (though even here, the rapidly rising number of divorces BEFORE no fault suggests they weren't *that* much of an impediment after all), but they also trapped people in horrible marriages. Estabishing fault grounds in court is more expensive, and the end result was collusion (couple agrees to lie about fault grounds) or incredibly nasty and bitter divorces (didn't stop the divorce - it just worsened the fallout).

Posted by: Cassandra at March 19, 2013 01:34 PM

OK, Yu-Ain:

To answer your question, the numbers include only custodial parents who were due support - no zeros.

The percentages were calculated from a sample of custodial mothers and fathers who were due child support.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 19, 2013 01:49 PM

Also, and I don't know how common this is, Child support payments are not only given out when one parent has sole custody. A friend of the LG has joint custody: the kids alternate weeks with each parent. The Dad buys clothes, food, school supplies, doctor bills, all the things that go into raising a child during the time he has them, but the Dad still pays child support to the Mom. I don't know whose insurance the kids are on so the cost may not be even (and thus making the CS completely justified).

This may explain why the CS payments awarded are much less than the cost of raising a child. The CS may not be the total extent of the paying parent's financial obligation.

Additionally, we would somewhat expect that the full cost of raising a child would not fall solely on one parent. So for a hypothetical middle income couple with roughly equal incomes and 1 child we would expect to see roughly equal financial obligations (~$550). If, the actual expenses were $650/$450 because the child was on only one parent's insurance, then the child support awarded would only need to be ~$100 to bring the expenses back into parity.

Now this is an idealized case and not reflective of "non-custodial" cases nor where one spouse significantly out earns the other, however, while the disparity between the CS awarded and the expenses may indicate an inequitible situation, it also may not.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 19, 2013 02:06 PM

Now this is an idealized case and not reflective of "non-custodial" cases nor where one spouse significantly out earns the other [which, by the way, is usually the case], however, while the disparity between the CS awarded and the expenses may indicate an inequitible situation, it also may not.

I couldn't agree more. I will say, however, that the fact that so many more custodial mothers are living below the poverty line indicates to me that they're not exactly getting rich off child support. So does the average/median monthly CS payment, and so does the fact that the income to needs ratio actually goes UP around 6 months after divorce for men. For women, it goes down immediately and never really recovers.

The single largest expense for custodial parents is housing. They have to be in a house big enough for the kids. Divorce doesn't really change that. Also, if the parents care at all about their kids, they want their children to live in a safe neighborhood with good schools.

That costs money, and a LOT of noncustodial fathers are really steamed that the mother unintentionally benefits from that. They also seem to believe that if they get a raise at work, their ability to support their children should not be revised upward (yet oddly, if they take a pay CUT, it should be decreased).

This is just bizarre. If the family were still together and Dad got a raise, the children would benefit from it. Divorce doesn't change that, and the non-custodial parent hasn't divorced his or her kids.

The real point of this post is that the average child support doesn't cover all the costs of raising a child (college, insurance, etc). In the vast majority of cases, it isn't that high a percentage of the noncustodial parent's income either. One area that can cause hardship is when a noncustodial parent remarries and has more children.

But in all fairness, that would have been a consideration anyway - in what world does having more children *not* cost more money? House them in two separate houses and there's a lot of inefficiency and waste.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 19, 2013 03:11 PM

The problem here, and not a criticism of Cass or anybody, is there are more factors in our society that is "in flux" than just "no fault divorce".

There are no controlling for other variables such as:
1) age of the married couple
2) age of divorced pair
3) educational level
4) income level
5) how much they liked Neil Diamond songs


Okay, maybe not that last one. But there has been a big social influence on heterosexual relationships with the advent of Birth Control. No one really knows if that behavior over time has achieved a new equilibrium. That is, when (in time) was the biggest impact, and is it now so normal that it has no effect on dating or marriage behavior?

Has the impact of "no fault" divorce normalized, too?

One of my great-grandmothers was divorced around the turn of the century (that's 1899- 1902), so divorce was not unknown in those days, and who knows what the reliable numbers are on marriage, "shotgun" marriages, etc.? And one of my grandfathers' never had a normal father, his mother (another "greatgrandmother") never married. And that was around 1897.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at March 19, 2013 06:40 PM

...there has been a big social influence on heterosexual relationships with the advent of Birth Control. No one really knows if that behavior over time has achieved a new equilibrium. That is, when (in time) was the biggest impact, and is it now so normal that it has no effect on dating or marriage behavior?

I think this is an excellent point, Don. All of economics is based on the idea that incentives matter (and that there are diminishing marginal returns to most activities). So why would we think that there is One, Great Unchanging Response To Everything That Is Hard Wired Into The Species?

I think human nature is mostly unchanging, but it wasn't ever simple or predictable. When I see people doing foolish or destructive things in large numbers, I generally figure they're doing them because the short term reward outweighs the short term cost.

One of my great-grandmothers was divorced around the turn of the century (that's 1899- 1902), so divorce was not unknown in those days, and who knows what the reliable numbers are on marriage, "shotgun" marriages, etc.? And one of my grandfathers' never had a normal father, his mother (another "greatgrandmother") never married. And that was around 1897.

Our family had our share of "Bohemian" arrangements, too, Don.

I don't think any of this is as simple as people want to think, and it wasn't even back in our great-grandparents' day :p

Posted by: Cassandra at March 19, 2013 07:14 PM

"I don't think any of this is as simple as people want to think, and it wasn't even back in our great-grandparents' day :p"

This seems to go back to your comment in the original posting about the unusually-stable 1950s being used as a baseline for a lot of single-cause analyses, when that decade was really an anomaly.

Something I find interesting in looking at that second chart of yours (aside from the Depression dip and post-WWII spike in marriages AND divorces) is that, following the near-halt in the rise of divorce rates during the 1950s, we saw a sharper increase in the late 60's, peaking in the 80's, and then a decline back to around the levels you'd get from extrapolating from the pre-war trend.

Does this mean that the culture had it right in the 1950's before the balance was upended by the changes of the 60's and 70's? Or that, following the hardships of the Depression and WWII, Americans tried a little TOO hard to live the "perfect life" in terms of how they thought their home life "ought" to be (a Stepford Decade?), and the strain boiled over in the mid-1960's? The simple cause proponents would seem to believe the former; the cynic in me suggests the latter.

Posted by: Matt at March 20, 2013 03:35 AM

Aids may have cut back the lifestyles that lead to divorces in the later 80's.
No facts, just my observation of the times.

Posted by: tomg51 at March 20, 2013 06:59 AM

Does this mean that the culture had it right in the 1950's before the balance was upended by the changes of the 60's and 70's? Or that, following the hardships of the Depression and WWII, Americans tried a little TOO hard to live the "perfect life" in terms of how they thought their home life "ought" to be (a Stepford Decade?), and the strain boiled over in the mid-1960's?

I, too, suspect the latter. WWII and the Korean War had to have a big residual effect on our culture. We saw that a lot in the Marines - before Marines go off to war, there are always rushed weddings (and pregnancies). Those marriages aren't generally built on a terribly solid foundation. I would think that any time we have a huge spike in marriages, it's going to be followed by a huge spike in divorces.

I would expect some kind of time lag between the marriage and divorce spikes due to two things:

1. Waiting for the kids to leave home (it seems almost quaint now, but couples used to try to stay together for the sake of the kids)

2. Midlife changes that stress marriages (kids grow up, couples grow apart, women in particular tend to feel lost during their 40s between the empty nest and the hormone roller coaster).

And people are living so much longer now. That's one thing we really have never seen before - large numbers of people living well into their 80s and 90s. My grandparents were all gone by about age 65.

My Dad will be 84 this year and is in far better shape than my grandparents were in their 60s. I think marriage makes even more sense with people living so long, but I can also see how long lifespans pose a real challenge to couples staying together.

That was the biggest thing the spouse and I worried about when our sons grew up and left home: would we still have enough in common? Would we still enjoy each other's company? Would we survive the shift from my being a stay at home wife and homemaker to having a career?

A lot of changes, not the least of which being that we had money for the first time in our marriage.

But I still love that old verse:

"Grow old along with me
The best is yet to be
The last of life, for which
The first was made."

Posted by: Cassandra at March 20, 2013 07:16 AM

I will say, however, that the fact that so many more custodial mothers are living below the poverty line indicates to me that they're not exactly getting rich off child support.

Not by a long shot.

That said, I think a lot of the misperception comes from the higher visibility of the high tail of the distribution. The species Babus Dadius is not likely to have the time nor income to be bitching about his rather pitiful payments to a large audience on the internet. Dadius Warbuckus on the other hand, does.

But given the propensity for having children while not married (either never being married or divorced) skews heavily toward the low end Babus Dadius is vastly more common.

[Housing in safe areas with good schools] costs money, and a LOT of noncustodial fathers are really steamed that the mother unintentionally benefits from that.

The complaints I hear seem not so much that the custodial mother benefits (Though I do agree that that is how it manifests itself). What I've seen is that the Dad feels "kicked out of the family". He's angry and lashes out at any possible excuse. One excuse (money) is just as good as another when you need one.

I can't really blame him for being angry, but part of being a man is putting your emotions aside, sucking it up and doing what is right for your kids anyway. I won't tell him not to be angry, but I will tell him to do his job (and have).

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 20, 2013 10:45 AM

And something else, I didn't really pick up the last time you posted those charts. The divorce rate has been steadily falling since ~1980, but so has the rate of marriage.

So people are less likely to get married, but those who do are more likely to stay married.

In some sense we could call this a victory as those not likely to stay married (like my FIL) have simply decided they shouldn't get married in the first place.

In some sense it is a loss in that marriage has such a profound positive impact on both the individual and society, but less people want it.

At the same time, it muddies the water on any sort of analysis on divorce as we don't know what those rates would have been had marriage rates been static.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 20, 2013 11:43 AM

My Freshman Sociology professor introduced his class by saying that most people thought Sociology research was about telling people stuff everyone already knows. Actually, he said, Sociology research is about figuring out that a lot of what everyone already knows isn't really so. I think this post - and much of your writing in general, Cassandra - is an excellent example of what he was talking about.

I've always suspected that the Women's Movement of the 60s was more likely to have been driven by the rising divorce rate than to have driven it. Perhaps as being a stay at home wife and mother became less and less a secure lifetime job, women were ripe for the message that they could secure their own financial futures.

Posted by: Elise at March 20, 2013 12:41 PM

Well, it could certainly form a feedback loop, couldn't it. A kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Though I wonder why marriage rates were going up in the 60's and not down. An artifact of a bounce after the Post WWII trough?

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 20, 2013 01:35 PM

I've always suspected that the Women's Movement of the 60s was more likely to have been driven by the rising divorce rate than to have driven it. Perhaps as being a stay at home wife and mother became less and less a secure lifetime job, women were ripe for the message that they could secure their own financial futures.

Me, too, Elise. I don't write about it because of course I have no way of knowing, but this is something that happens a lot: we can't help superimposing our present knowledge and experience to a different time when people played by a different set of rules (and were responding to different pressures and incentives).

I didn't really pick up the last time you posted those charts. The divorce rate has been steadily falling since ~1980, but so has the rate of marriage. So people are less likely to get married, but those who do are more likely to stay married.

I'm guessing this will not be the subject of the next James Taranto column because... HYPERGAMY!!!!

(but not hypogamy or - Heaven Forfend!!! - homogamy)

/sashaying my Bad, Hypergamous Self on down the road :)

Posted by: Cass at March 20, 2013 02:15 PM

Yu-Ain:

I had another post on the marriage trends, but it will have to wait until my hair is not on fire.

Posted by: Cass at March 20, 2013 02:16 PM

What I've seen is that the Dad feels "kicked out of the family". He's angry and lashes out at any possible excuse. One excuse (money) is just as good as another when you need one.

Very perceptive, and something I need to keep in mind.

Posted by: Cass at March 20, 2013 02:16 PM

but not hypogamy or - Heaven Forfend!!! - homogamy

That's what I've been seeing. "Rich" men used to marry women who were smart and capable of earning good incomes themselves but choose not to. While "poor" men used to marry women who were not as smart and capable of earning good incomes themselves and thus didn't.


High performers have always wanted to marry other high performers. You just couldn't tell the two groups of women apart by looking at income back then. Smart, capable women earned the same as less capable women: $0.

What's left of the income disparity of "women looking for men that make more" is an artifact that women still tend to work fewer hours and balance the work/family tradeoff more on the family side even among those with similar capabilities. Not that they are looking for someone smarter or more capable.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 20, 2013 05:20 PM

Whilst Googling idly in the wee hours of the morning (during a 5 minute coffee break), I ran across a hilarious post called something like, "Why hypergamy enrages men"... written (wait for it!) by a man :p

One of the funnier things I've read lately

Posted by: Cassandra at March 20, 2013 05:24 PM

Marriage is, after all, a social construct developed to insure the birth and nurturing of the next generation.

It has other fulfilling aspects, but sometimes the wagon of love is broken by the baggage of life. Or something.

But seriously (well, sort of), marriage rates may rise and fall (and divorce) based on certain popular social externalities (such as BC, no fault divorce, actual household wealth, how well the economy is doing, etc.).

I don't know if it is possible to tease out one particular cause for a trend, with a complex social construct.

Elise makes an excellent point. Sometimes what "common sense" tells all us regular folk just ain't so. And sometimes it is. But without real social analysis, we are really just....(wait for it).... guessing.

All I really know about is this microcosm of society, the family and friends of whom I know some details and history. And that is just a narrow anecdote, however "true" and insightful anything I perceive may be.

Who was divorced and why. Why they had kids and someone else didn't. Why so-and-so's kids turned out OK. Why this kid is in prison or their life is a mess. Microcosm, that we want to project on the larger society. May be true, maybe just wishful thinking.

And sometimes it dawns on me that there are greater social tides that move us all to do things that sometimes don't seem right, in retrospect.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at March 20, 2013 06:14 PM

Sorry - phone rang.

What cracks me up is that lately there has been quite a bit of talk about how assortative mating (basically, homogamy, or "birds of a feather, flock together") is responsible for all this pesky income inequality.

You'll never see these folks yammering on about hypogamy (which would explain their persistent complaints about being 'done wrong' by the outwardly attractive/inwardly ugly women they keep chasing) though. As Elise commented elsewhere, the apparent chain of causality runs in one direction only (and miraculously it never points at them). It's always someone else's fault, my instincts are healthy and beneficial and everyone else's instincts are perverse and destructive :p

I can't figure out how some of these folks carry on with a straight face. We can only hope they don't reproduce.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 20, 2013 06:17 PM

Interesting analysis. My parents divorced when I was 15 so I have mixed feelings on the whole subject. On one hand, I am appalled by the apparent increase of whim marriages (Kardasian clan - Zellweger etc) that have duration's shorter than the life span of a fruit fly. However, for me, my parents divorce was the best thing that could occur. Living with two people that had come to detest each-other, and were only staying together for "the kids" and religious convention was a form of torture. I recall at the time, the judge would only grant the divorce if abuse was alleged - my mother had to point out some heavy handed discipline my father used on us children for the judge to grant the request. Of course this made their relationship even worse and poisoned family get togethers for years to come.

Posted by: Frodo at March 22, 2013 09:52 AM

...at the time, the judge would only grant the divorce if abuse was alleged - my mother had to point out some heavy handed discipline my father used on us children for the judge to grant the request. Of course this made their relationship even worse and poisoned family get togethers for years to come.

I briefly worked in a family law practice as a paralegal, and came to the conclusion that divorce is just messy and tragic. I was trained in SC (a fault ground state for the most part) and worked in California, where no fault prevailed.

There are bad aspects to both systems.

It's hard for me to understand divorce (murder maybe, but not divorce :p) because I've never been in an unhappy marriage. We've had our rough spots certainly, but things never became toxic.

I read a study once that followed couples for several decades. They interviewed the couples at intervals.

One of the more interesting findings was that couples who were miserable at one stage but stayed together generally felt better about the marriage and reported being very happy years later. But that has to be a self-selecting sample - obviously it doesn't include couples who were so unhappy they left the marriage.

I've tried very hard never to say anything that would inflict deep wounds or indicated contempt. It's easy enough to hurt someone without meaning to, and it's been my experience that it's a lot easier to hurt men deeply than they let on. Sometimes I'll say something with the best intentions, thinking I'm being very clear, and my husband interprets it 180 out from what I was thinking.

That works in reverse, too. That's why I've never understood how couples can stop talking - how else do you clear misunderstandings like that up?

I read two interesting articles on marriage this week. One was actually about the fact that it's just as messy (if not more so) when live-in couples break up - there's no structure or process, and no real recourse for them.

The other recommended temporary marriages, which just sounds like waaaaaaay too much trouble for no real benefit. I don't think it's the institution of marriage that causes problems.

I think it's people.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 22, 2013 10:37 AM

Oops. Almost forgot...

FRODO!!! :)

Nice to see you.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 22, 2013 10:40 AM

Hi Cass, good to see you as well. :)

My only real experience with divorce was with my parents and a bit thru a niece who is working on her second marriage (shes a space shot so I steer clear of her), so I don't have as broad a pool of experience as you do.

My marriage has had tough times as well, and I would agree with you that talking thru issues has been key. I would have to say however, credit for that all goes to my wife as I do have a tendency to shut down and not talk when I'm mad. My wonderful wife has a way of getting me out of those funks and talking again.

As for my parents, I suppose in some ways their situation was unique. I'm not sure what he was like when they met, but by my memory he was definitely a hard person to live with either as a spouse or a child. He was mostly raised by his grandmother, an immigrant from Prussia, so many of his opinions on the world, including the roles of woman were rooted in the 1800's Prussian society! I think he was also disappointed in his lot in life - not as successful as he thought he deserved, and took it out on his family. He did mellow significantly in his later years before he passed.

By the time my mother filed for divorce, they were indeed at the point where they didn't talk to each other - literally passing messages to each other thru me and trying to get the kids to pick sides in their arguments. For me, it really was for the best that they separated. My sisters didn't at the time agree and were quite mad at my mother for doing so - of course they no longer lived at home at the time.

Their divorce didn't seem to be contagious as all the children have stayed in their marriages, anywhere from 25 - 40 years.

Posted by: Frodo at March 22, 2013 12:02 PM

Outside of working at the law office and general awareness of breakups in our command at various duty stations, I don't have much close experience with divorce.

But my oldest and dearest friend reluctantly left her husband many years ago. I remember how surprised I was and how upset I was for her. It really rocked her. She didn't believe in divorce and never thought she'd be "that person", but honestly I don't think I would have been able to stay in a marriage like that.

Years later, she is happily remarried and so is he. Their families are close and have supported each other through some difficult times.

Not saying the end justifies the means because I do believe that marriage vows are supposed to be "'til death do us part", but life has a funny way of reminding me how much I don't know and haven't had to deal with personally.

As much as I often wish we could go back to a simpler time, I often wonder whether that's really the right answer or not? I look at what a heavy burden men bore back then and my heart just breaks.

There's something noble about traditional masculinity but also something sad and limiting, to my way of thinking. I'll never forget the delight my father in law took in our sons when they were small. I remember my mother in law saying, "He never spent that much time with our sons". How could he, though? He was always deployed, or working long hours. The world was such a different place then, and yet here was this quiet, sort of taciturn man playing with my boys as though he were a child again.

I think the same could be said of traditional femininity. What do you do when your children have grown up and moved away and no longer need you? I've seen some women cope very well, but others who never got over the pain of the empty nest. I can see the beauty, but also the sorrow.

Posted by: Cass at March 22, 2013 01:14 PM

Well, mine own experiences with divorce are, well, weird.

Aunt: Military (she was Army, he was Navy) driven. Split was amiable. I didn't even know she had been married until my late teens.

Brother: Mentally abusive wife. She left when he became so emotionally dead she couldn't manipulate him anymore.

FIL: After 3 infidelity based divorces he has finally learned not to get married.

MIL: After 2 divorces, she hasn't and is heading toward her 3rd.

MIL/FIL custody battle resulted in the LG being kidnapped by *both* parents one year.

Uncle-IL: Classic story: Sucrum Dadio meets Bombum Shellum Vacantus

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 22, 2013 04:42 PM

I've probably told this story before, so if you've heard it, feel free to tune out.

In our early 30s, we were stationed in Annapolis at the Nasal Academy. The boys were finally both in school and we were actually able to go out on weekends and socialize as much as we've ever been inclined to do. We had kind of a diverse group of friends, many of whom were considerably older than we were.

One night we were sitting at a small dinner party. One of the guests was in his early 50s (IOW, *ancient* as far as we were concerned). Several folks at the table were discussing various dating dramas that were going on, some including people at the party. It was so surreal - I sat there with not much to say, not having dated much - OK fine, at all - since we'd gotten married a decade ago.

It sounded just like high school and I kept thinking, "Wow. We just never get any smarter do we?" Or maybe its just that love and lust turn even the smartest person into a dimwit.

I think at that point in my life I really believed people got wiser with age. OK, now you can laugh at me :p

Posted by: Cassandra at March 22, 2013 05:15 PM

I think at that point in my life I really believed people got wiser with age.

Maybe we just find new ways to be idiots.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 22, 2013 05:38 PM

Well, it's definitely true that I never seem to run out of new and diverting ways to beclown myself :p

If you can laugh at yourself, you'll always have a big smile on your face!

Posted by: Cassandra at March 22, 2013 05:45 PM

OK, I now have a new system... Motherboard smoking and sending out white hot sparks does indicate a problem.

Speaking of which... what the heck ever happened to an unbiased look at data so people can be well informed? Isn't it great that Cass has done the work and come to the conclusion, I was previously mistaken?

Doesn't that serve us all well? When an honest broker can say, here's the info, I have nothing to sell, make of it what you will.

Brava.

P.S. The great nieces were over for horsey day. Yumpin' Yimminy, great whatevers, I must be maturing. I swears I'm not getting older.

Posted by: Allen at March 23, 2013 07:17 PM

Notwithstanding the statistical legerdemain with regards to divorce rates per married women, you are right that no-fault wasn't the real reason for uptick in divorce rates.
But the futurist was right about feminism being the main cause of american society's destruction. It just started a little earlier.

http://mypostingcareer.com/forums/topic/5910-not-sure-if-rape-also-not-sure-if-wife-will-love-me/page__st__20#entry108843


"The single largest expense for custodial parents is housing. They have to be in a house big enough for the kids. Divorce doesn't really change that. "

why not throw mother out of house and put her on nanny duties that would be duly recompensed?

As for the 'conservatives', RL Dabney had them nailed in his essay Women's Rights Women a hundred years ago. The unknown history of misandry at blogspot has alimony stories before 2nd wavers appeared on the scene.

Posted by: namae nanka at March 24, 2013 07:31 AM

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