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No Benefit Divorce
Dec 1st, 2012

 “I love you with all my heart.  You are my life, my love, my reason for living.  You are the very breath of my life.  I will love you forever.”  When we’re in love, those words are easy to say, and believe.  Yet, somewhere buried deep inside our hearts, we're not sure if they are really enough for a happy marriage.  So, just in case, to protect ourselves (and our property), some of us require the “very breath of our life” to sign a pre-nuptial agreement.  That way, should we ever divorce our love, (which we’ll never, ever do), the very breath of our life won’t get any of our property.

Divorce has been with us for thousands of years and whenever it has occurred, it’s hurt everyone.  The married couple and their children have suffered directly, and society, as a whole, has suffered indirectly.  As for the couple, at least one of them suffered (emotionally and/or physically) before they even decided to divorce.  Both of the spouses have suffered at the hands of lawyers and the legal system.  Attorneys have taken their share of the estate and the courts have displayed all of the divorce proceedings before the public. 

As we know, children involved in a divorce can suffer from guilt and/or depression.  When they see their parents fighting, their world crumbles before their eyes because they sense that they will be abandoned.  They feel that they have somehow caused the fight and that they are no longer loved.  That stress on children can be so severe that it can compromise their physical and emotional health.  It can also cause the child to act out in anti-social ways, such as; criminal behavior, and/or various addictions.

Finally, society, in general, suffers because they not only have to financially support part of the broken family, but also assimilate the children (or young adults) who may have developed behavior problems and/or addictions.  Additionally, in an unseen way, divorce can cause young adults to delay marriage, or perhaps even decide against marriage, because of the pain they see in other divorces.  This delay of, or decision against, marriage undermines important underpinnings of society, namely, the safety and stability of the family.

As hurtful and problematic as divorce is, we clearly compounded its problem when we passed “No-Fault” Divorce laws because we introduced “instant gratification” into the mix.  Our laws have made divorce so quick and easy that it’s now easier to divorce a spouse of 25 years than it is to fire an employee who was hired just a week ago.  Today, an employee has more legal rights than does a spouse. 

No-Fault Divorce promised us faster and cheaper divorces, divorces with less domestic violence, divorces with less trauma for the children, and the freedom to quickly find new happiness.  However, what it gave us was a greater number of divorces, fewer marriages, a trivialized marital covenant, more traumatized children, more marital irresponsibility, and more financial instability.  Divorce, in and of itself, forever limits the economic freedom of the mother because it places the non-financial burden of raising the children squarely on her shoulders.  So, as we can see, No-Fault divorce has not only kept all of the problems of divorce (except for the high cost of lawyers), it has made them happen sooner.

Somehow divorce, and especially No-Fault Divorce, needs to be relegated to our history books.  It’s a worthy cause and it can be done, however, it will be considerably more difficult to get rid of than it was introducing it.   While there are many good ideas on how to eliminate (or perhaps, minimize) divorce, all of them include two basic principles: first, build better marriages, and second, remove all of the incentives/benefits from divorce.

Obviously, the process of building more enduring marriages will take a very long time.  However if we are able to remove all of the incentives from divorce, it will give us the time we need.  Then, should someone be considering divorce, it would be less attractive.

With respect to building more enduring marriages, there are three goals that we need to meet.  The first of these is to insure that the couple has an enduring compatibility.  That is, they need to know the “person”, not just the image of the person, who they are marrying.  The second is to develop and strengthen the couple’s marital bond through a mutual understanding and acceptance of the dignity of their spouse.  This also includes the understanding and acceptance of the dignity of any new life coming from the marriage.  The third is to develop the couple’s understanding and acceptance of what it means to have a marital covenant.

It may seem obvious, but one of the more important safeguards against choosing the wrong spouse is to have longer dating and engagement periods.  While “love at first sight” can be romantic, it’s generally based on an infatuation with what is perceived and not necessarily on an enduring compatibility.  Longer dating and engagement periods help couples get through the period of infatuation and help them better understand who their potential spouse really is.  If one of them is projecting a false image, it will likely be seen as such over a longer period of time.

A second, and again obvious, safeguard against choosing the wrong spouse is a better insight into whether or not your prospective spouse truly loves you.  That’s important because if your prospective spouse doesn’t treat you with the dignity you deserve before you are married, you probably won’t be treated with the dignity you deserve after you are married.  An easy example of this is of a man who uses his fiancée for sexual gratification.  This is a serious problem because, for women, sexual intimacy is something that carries with it the proof she needs that her man loves her and that kind of intimacy naturally binds her to him.  When a man exploits a woman in this way, he undermines or breaks the natural bonding process of the woman at the expense of her self-worth.  The woman’s self-worth is diminished when she realizes that she is not loved (as she loves) and instead is simply being used.  When that happens, she then knows that her man doesn’t respect her as a person and her acceptance of that lack of respect reinforces in her mind that her value is somehow tied to how she can be used.  In turn, that forces the woman to choose between breaking off the relationship or trading in some of her self-worth (i.e. agreeing to be just a sexual object) on the chance that this man could still be her true love.

It seems obvious that when someone respects the dignity of their spouse, they probably respect the dignity of others, including any new life coming from their marriage.  When a man doesn’t respect the dignity of his wife, he generally doesn’t respect the dignity of anyone else and when new life comes from the marriage, he has no emotional bond with it and, in fact, wouldn’t be bothered if that new life “just went away.”  Obviously, this lack of respect for others undermines the stability and safety of the family.

A third, but less obvious, safeguard against making a poor decision for a spouse is to have a better understanding of what it means to give oneself completely to the other.  A covenantal relationship, where each spouse gives themselves completely to the other, is the best way to demonstrate the highest level of their love for their spouse.  Through a covenantal relationship, each spouse dedicates themselves to the greater good of the other spouse.  That love not only endures but also, when it is realized by the other spouse, builds a greater reciprocal love.

While it’s important to insure a better start for all marriages, it will take, perhaps, two generations of reform before marriage will again be recognized as the stable and respectful state in life it once was.  Until then, we need to encourage those who are married to stay married and there are at least three ways to do that.  The first is to remove any and all incentives from divorce.  Secondly, we need slow down the process of divorce so that the troubled spouses are given more time to find happiness in their marriage or, at least, stop them from making the same mistake again.  Thirdly, we need to limit the number of divorces.

One method to de-incentivize divorce is to prevent any money or asset from the marriage to flow to the spouse who initiates the divorce.  Perhaps, the most important financial aspect of divorce is the idea that, while the divorce will force the splitting of the couple’s assets, there will still be something left over for each of them so that they can start over again.  This incentive needs to be removed and could be accomplished through a legal paper, signed by both spouses.  The agreement would award no money, property, or any other financial considerations, except for the clothes they are wearing, to the spouse who filed for divorce and instead would award all assets (money, property, .…) to the spouse being divorced.  Those legal papers would be very important because they would supersede any and all other pre-nuptial agreements.

Obviously, this agreement would have little or no effect on a couple who are destitute.  However, for couples who have even modest assets this agreement would stop most divorces before they even started.  True enough, some spouses will find illegal ways around the contract, but that should not prevent us from having all married couples sign such an agreement.

A second method is to delay the effective date of the divorce for five years.  In some cases, this would result in a “physical separation” for five years.  If one of the spouses can show that there has been some physical abuse or financial irresponsibility (drugs, gambling, .…) in the marriage, then the court could issue a legal and/or physical separation.  Otherwise, the couple would have to stay together. 

Studies have shown that couples who stay together, even though they are having problems, often reconcile in less than five years.  Therefore, in order to encourage couples who are having problems to stay together, our laws need to include an automatic five year waiting period before the divorce is final and they are able to marry someone else. 

The third deterrent against divorce would be the condition that only one divorce can be granted to any one person.  If someone wanted to dissolve their second marriage, that person could, at best, get a decree for a physical separation.  In no case would the dissolution of the second marriage be considered a divorce.  The couple would continue to be legally married and therefore, neither would be allowed to get married again, that is, until after the death of a “prior” spouse.

Divorce continues to cause a lot of pain for everyone involved and it needs to be eliminated.  It will be difficult to eliminate it because its benefits can be very good and many people want to resort to it.  Obviously, the best way to eliminate the pain of divorce is to have married couples never get to the point where they even think about it.  Ultimately, that means we need to have stronger marriages. 

Stronger, more enduring marriages will result when couples are better prepared for marriage and understand that marriage is a life-long commitment (covenant) between a husband and wife.  However, if trouble does come to the marriage, we need to give the marriage the best chance for survival by giving the couple ample time to reconcile.  And, at the same time, we need to remove any and all of the incentives from divorce so that divorce truly becomes the last resort.

It is possible to relegate divorce to our history books, but it will take a significant change in how couples prepare for marriage and how society works to keep marriages intact.

Roger Cruze