In Defense of Divorce

House after  divorce

[Crossposted at Family Scholars Blog]

Marina Adshade, an economics professor with an interest in “sex and love,” writes:

Today we will take a few minutes to show a little appreciation for an important right in Western society – the right to divorce. [...]

Economists Justine Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson, in a 2006 paper, showed that these legal changes had significant impacts on the quality of life of women. Taking advantage of in state-by-state variations in the time in which these laws were put into place they found that freer access to divorce brought with it an 8 –16% decline in female suicide, a 30% decline in domestic violence and 10% decline in the murder rate of women.

You may argue that these benefits to unilateral divorce laws come at significant costs – hardship for children and female poverty, just to name two – but that would only be true if the change in divorce laws increased the rate of divorce and that has not been proven. In fact, the best evidence suggests a very small positive effect on divorce rates only in the ten years after divorces became easier to obtain. And even then, that effect was only among those who were married before the laws were put in place.

The explanation for why easier access to divorce has not increased divorce rates is simple – men and women enter into marriage more cautiously when they know that divorce is easier to obtain. This is because while the laws may have made divorce easier from a legal standpoint, they have not made marital dissolution emotionally or economically painless.

It is this fact that explains why women marry later in life when it is easier to divorce.

A second explanation, which also explains the fall in domestic violence and suicide in states that support unilateral divorce, is just knowing that your spouse can divorce you without your consent encourages married individuals to treat each other better.

In the article, Adshade also argue that the use of “covenant” marriage agreements doesn’t actually make people less likely to divorce, but they do make the divorces harder on the people involved (“Anecdotal evidence suggests that even when abuse has been proven judges strictly enforce separation periods of up to two years.”). Those costs fall disproportionately on women:

The purpose of a covenant marriage is to increase the cost of divorce, significantly, and as a result give parties an incentive to stay in a failing marriage. If women are lower wage earners than men, or are out of the workforce all together, then the imposition of these costs falls disproportionally on women making it difficult for them to leave a bad marriage. That part of the arrangement is significant since in the majority of divorces it is the wife who wants the marriage to end.

I pretty much agree with Adshade on all of this. Married life was not a paradise in the 1950s, and the people I know who got divorced did so only after a lot of anguish and thought. Contrary to what the marriage-rescuers seem to believe, most Americans take marriage very seriously; trying to make it even harder to divorce is punitive, it is anti-liberty, and it will not actually improve anything.

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128 Responses to In Defense of Divorce

  1. 1
    JutGory says:

    I have a few problems with this:

    The explanation for why easier access to divorce has not increased divorce rates is simple – men and women enter into marriage more cautiously when they know that divorce is easier to obtain.

    This is counterintuitive. You could just as easily say that easier access to divorce would increase divorce rates, because they enter into it more cautiously if they know divorce is difficult to obtain. Kim Kardashian, anyone?

    Implicit in the notion of a “Starter Marriage” is that you can (and will) simply end it, because you are not really serious about it.

    Amp said:

    trying to make it even harder to divorce is punitive, it is anti-liberty, and it will not actually improve anything

    Okay, I am not sure how it is “punitive.” I look at it as a civil contract (apart from one’s particular religious notions). As a contract, off the top of my head, I can’t think of another contract that can simply be repudiated unilaterally. Anyone? So, to describe it as “punitive” suggests that it is a punishment to hold people to their legally binding promises.

    I agree with you when you say it is anti-liberty, but every contract is. My cell phone contract is very punitive if I try to leave and it restricts my liberty, and I know the wrath of God will rain down on me if I try to switch carriers before my two-year plan is up.

    By the way, for what it’s worth, I would concede that mutual divorces (that is, when both sides agree) should be no problem (just like any other civil contract), when there are no children involved. If there are children involved, the bar should be set much higher, and you might even go to the “fault” standard of divorce. After all, making divorce “no-fault” has not made things any less ugly.

    -Jut

  2. 2
    Ledasmom says:

    I don’t see how it could make it more ugly; you don’t have couples having to do the sort of put-up job they used to do, where one of them would arrange to get “caught” committing adultery (that is, by a photographer, at a pre-arranged time).

  3. 3
    La Lubu says:

    I agree with you when you say it is anti-liberty, but every contract is. My cell phone contract is very punitive if I try to leave and it restricts my liberty, and I know the wrath of God will rain down on me if I try to switch carriers before my two-year plan is up.

    So….you are recommending that marriage licenses have a particular time frame specified, like cell phone contracts?

  4. 4
    Hugh says:

    In the words of Louis CK “Go ahead, do it, live the dream, fall in love, get married, get divorced and then raise your kids in two healthy, separate homes”

  5. 5
    Kate says:

    JGory @ 1 said:

    After all, making divorce “no-fault” has not made things any less ugly.

    Did you even read the post??????

    16% decline in female suicide, a 30% decline in domestic violence and 10% decline in the murder rate of women.

    How is that “not less ugly”?

  6. 6
    Stefan says:

    So….you are recommending that marriage licenses have a particular time frame specified, like cell phone contracts?

    As has been said on this blog before, this is already the case in Iran, and it’s used, among other things, as a legal cover for prostitution.
    More to the point, I frankly don’t see any problem with marriage contracts limited in time.But if you choose to sign a contract when you know it’s for life, you shouldn’t have the right to revoke it unilaterally.Ideally, the contract should have a clause “marriage will become void when I won’t love my husband anymore”, but how the fuck would you prove lack of love in court.

  7. Stefan:

    As has been said on this blog before, this is already the case in Iran, and it’s used, among other things, as a legal cover for prostitution.

    Except that, in Iran, temporary marriages are not exactly a boon to women, though they tend to give men a way of getting what they want. This is a far more complicated subject than I have time to go into here, so I will just say this: I don’t think this is a good comparison for the purposes you seem to want to use it.

  8. 8
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    This is a good post! And not just because I agree with it ;)

    Jutgory said
    If there are children involved, the bar should be set much higher, and you might even go to the “fault” standard of divorce. After all, making divorce “no-fault” has not made things any less ugly.

    There’s an inherent assumption you are making here:

    You are assuming that it’s better for children (and society at large) to have parents stay in an unhappy marriage against their will, than it is for them to divorce.

    Where are you getting the data for that assumption?

  9. 9
    AMM says:

    Stefan @6:

    But if you choose to sign a contract when you know it’s for life, you shouldn’t have the right to revoke it unilaterally.

    Why not? All normal open-ended contracts have cancellation clauses. I’m not a lawyer, but I suspect that courts would construe some sort of implicit cancellation clause if your life-time contract didn’t have one. That’s assuming they didn’t just nullify the contract entirely on the grounds that such a contract is contrary to public policy or something.

  10. 10
    AMM says:

    JutGory @1:

    Amp said:

    > trying to make it even harder to divorce is punitive,
    > it is anti-liberty, and it will not actually improve
    > anything

    Okay, I am not sure how it is “punitive.” I look at it as a civil contract (apart from one’s particular religious notions). As a contract, off the top of my head, I can’t think of another contract that can simply be repudiated unilaterally. Anyone? So, to describe it as “punitive” suggests that it is a punishment to hold people to their legally binding promises.

    I can think of lots of “contracts” which can be repudiated unilaterally with no legal penalty or recourse: a “contract” to go on a date, a “contract” to give you a kiss, etc.

    But since you’re throwing around the word “legally,” I’d say that marriage is not a contract in the usual legal sense: a quid-pro-quo agreement. There’s no (legal) consideration, the (legal) obligations of each to the other are not spelled out, and the ones you’re likely to assume are there (e.g., sexual services) are precisely the sort of things that the law does not allow you to contract for.

    That’s why marriage is governed by a completely separate set of laws, usually with its own court system.

    And BTW, even in the case of a usual legal contract, either side can unilaterally end it, they just have to pay a reasonable amount for whatever “damage” the other party suffers as a result of the breach (which might be zero.) Divorce has analogous payments: alimony, child support, and division of property.

    As for “punitive,” I’m not a lawyer, but I think that even if your (normal) contract has a cancellation clause, that clause might be voided if a court decides it is unreasonably punitive. I’ve heard of stuff like that happening. E.g., if your cell phone contract required you to pay a million dollars if you cancel, I think a court would refuse to enforce it.

  11. 11
    Kaija says:

    One big contributing factor that has made divorce “ugly” is the lawyers who encourage adversarial processes, thus drawing out the process and increasing their billing. Mediation is an option that is gaining popularity simply because many couples do not want to waste large sums of money and cause each other and their children more disruption and ill will. There are a lot of unscrupulous lawyers who urge soon-to-be-ex spouses to battle each other and stoke the flames of emotional upheaval and distress, and it’s often non possible to go through the system without a lawyer. If the process of divorce was more humane, the human costs would be minimized.

  12. 12
    mythago says:

    As a contract, off the top of my head, I can’t think of another contract that can simply be repudiated unilaterally. Anyone?

    Sure. Renting an apartment. Most jobs. That’s just off the top of my head. Your assumptions that a) marriage is just one more kind of contract and b) contracts can only be ended by mutual agreement are so off-base that you cannot possibly rest a meaningful argument about marriage on them.

    Now, it is certainly true that many contracts have specific requirements about how they can be ended – if your landlord wants you gone, for example, she cannot just change your locks, but must give you formal notice and a specified period of time in which to leave – and others require the party walking away to compensate the other (if your boss agrees to employ you for a year, then fires you without cause after a month, your boss may have to pay you the remaining year’s salary).

    There’s also nothing in your post to suggest why we should require fault when children are present. Fault-based divorce means that, to end the marriage, one person (unilaterally) accuses the other in a court of law of misconduct so severe that the marriage has to end. I find it difficult to credit an unsupported assertion that such a process benefits children.

  13. 13
    AMM says:

    Kaija @11

    One big contributing factor that has made divorce “ugly” is the lawyers who encourage adversarial processes, thus drawing out the process and increasing their billing.

    How often is this the fault of the lawyers? And how often of their clients?

    In my own divorce, it was my (now) ex who dragged the thing out. Her position was that it was immoral for me to divorce her, and she was going to use every trick in the book to stop me. Even her own lawyer seemed embarrassed by some of the stuff. I’ve known a number of people who seemed more interested in extracting their pound of flesh from their spouses than getting on with their lives.

  14. 14
    Grace Annam says:

    As a contract, off the top of my head, I can’t think of another contract that can simply be repudiated unilaterally. Anyone?

    I’m not trained in contract law, but my understanding is that there are provisions in contract law for people to get out of a contract when it turns out to be egregiously one-sided for reasons beyond the reasonable control of the person on the short end of the stick (apologies for all the highfalutin legal language). Bankruptcy law springs to mind.

    Also, most contracts have exit clauses. Most employment contracts have stipulations governing what will happen if you give notice versus what will happen if you simply stop showing up. You may at this point feel the impulse to argue that marriage contracts don’t have such clauses, but in fact they do: divorce law. The fact that divorce law can change is perhaps little different from the fact that contract law can change, and make your civil contract different in some way from when you entered into it.

    I agree with you when you say it is anti-liberty, but every contract is. My cell phone contract is very punitive if I try to leave and it restricts my liberty, and I know the wrath of God will rain down on me if I try to switch carriers before my two-year plan is up.

    No, your cell phone company will require you to pay a penalty, and in my experience it’s often a pro-rated penalty, so that if you get out one month early it doesn’t hurt much.

    Neither will the wrath of God rain down on one member of a domestic relationship, but quite often the wrath of one partner will rain down on the other partner.

    So to compare such a case to a moderate financial penalty is to compare a bonfire to an ember. Perhaps you can find two cases which are more parallel to bolster your argument.

    By the way, for what it’s worth, I would concede that mutual divorces (that is, when both sides agree) should be no problem (just like any other civil contract), when there are no children involved. If there are children involved, the bar should be set much higher, and you might even go to the “fault” standard of divorce.

    So if children are involved, we should make it harder for people to extract themselves from an abusive relationship. Got it. Because that way the little tykes will learn family values like “look before you leap”. They will never learn family values like “it’s okay when Daddy hits Mommy, because Mommy can’t get out.”

    After all, making divorce “no-fault” has not made things any less ugly.

    Since the original post provided evidence that going to no-fault divorce has made things less ugly, perhaps you could bolster your contradictory assertion with some evidence, too. That is, if you want anyone to take it seriously.

    Grace

  15. 15
    RonF says:

    I just have to riff on the picture, because a buddy of mine who has got … issues … with his wife and who has done a lot of work on his house (with no help from his wife whatsoever, even though she’s the one who’s demanded the work) has threatened to take a chain saw and do exactly that to his house if he ever gets a divorce.

  16. 16
    RonF says:

    To be on topic with the discussion going on here, marriage is a bit different because there’s really two agreements involved. One – the one recognized by the State – is a civil matter, and it seems to me that there has to be a way to end the agreement if at least one of the members finds it unbearable. The other, at least in most cases, is a religiously-based (or spiritually-based) commitment. The State can have no role in that; but the authority you have to answer to in that case is a good deal more powerful.

  17. 17
    Jake Squid says:

    … the people I know who got divorced did so only after a lot of anguish and thought.

    Well, a lot of anguish. The decision itself took no thought at all. It was simply a gut reaction caused by the anguish.

  18. 18
    james says:

    “And BTW, even in the case of a usual legal contract, either side can unilaterally end it, they just have to pay a reasonable amount for whatever “damage” the other party suffers as a result of the breach (which might be zero.) Divorce has analogous payments: alimony, child support, and division of property.”

    It used to work like, that but doesn’t anymore. The idea in contract law is if you, say, fail to build a swimming pool you have to compensate the other party for the damage they’ve suffered from you not completing your side of the contract. Suing for fault divorce and then claiming alimony was analogous, your partner is at fault, didn’t live up to the contract, and has to compensate you because of that.

    With the removal of fault, that argument doesn’t work, because payment isn’t dependent on any breach. You can’t breach a contract and then sue the other guy for the damages caused to you from your breach of the contract. If you sue for no-fault divorce there’s no judgement whether your partner breached the contract and so no suggestion they should owe you anything for breaching it. There may be lots of good reasons for alimony, child support and property division after a no-fault divorce – but you can’t justify it on a contract basis. Just as you can’t justify signing a contract for a swimming pool, refuse to let the guy build it, and then sue him for the damage caused to you from it not being built.

  19. 19
    james says:

    So if children are involved, we should make it harder for people to extract themselves from an abusive relationship. Got it. Because that way the little tykes will learn family values like “look before you leap”. They will never learn family values like “it’s okay when Daddy hits Mommy, because Mommy can’t get out.”

    That runs both ways. The current position is the court can’t even look at the interests of children when deciding to grant a divorce. Any evidence either way doesn’t matter. Why should that be? Say if my wife wants to divorce me so she can re-marry a convicted wifebeater and child molester. Shouldn’t I be able to argue that allowing the divorce, so that can occur, is not in the interests of my children. And shouldn’t the court be able to consider their interests in deciding whether to grant it.

    You are assuming that it’s better for children (and society at large) to have parents stay in an unhappy marriage against their will, than it is for them to divorce.

    I’m not assuming anything. I’m saying people should be able to argue the case in front of a court and the court should be able to take this evidence into account in making their decision. You the one who is assuming divorce will always be best for the children when you argue that whatever the actual evidence in any particular case is, this shouldn’t be admissible when the court makes a decision.

  20. 20
    Megalodon says:

    So if children are involved, we should make it harder for people to extract themselves from an abusive relationship. Got it.

    Of course not. But after they leave the abusive relationship, they’ll probably be getting abused again in a year’s time. Only this time, the abuse will be from mom’s new boyfriend, instead of dad.

  21. 21
    Robert says:

    I approve of no-fault divorce, and I see the social utility of child support, and I understand the historical reasons for marital support.

    I do believe that there needs to be some kind of change in the presumptions that courts start with; I particularly believe that there needs to be some kind of revision to the idea that a non-working spouse can file for divorce without claiming fault or harm, and receive personal financial support from the working spouse s/he has kicked out of the home. Even with a finding that my wife is perfectly able to work, a finding that her past unemployment has been purely voluntary on her part (and that status urgently requested to be changed by me, over many years), and a finding of numerous fraudulent statements on her own financial disclosures (including false statements about what expenses she was paying and a false statement that she had no assets in trust, all of which she admitted to under cross), my wife was awarded substantial marital support at temporary orders. We are hoping to get that reversed at final but I am frankly pessimistic.

  22. 22
    Dianne says:

    But after they leave the abusive relationship, they’ll probably be getting abused again in a year’s time.

    It’s true that people tend to repeat their relationship mistakes…free psychotherapy with every divorce?

  23. 23
    Robert says:

    “free psychotherapy with every divorce?”

    That’s the liberal failure-coddling solution. The free-market responsibility-promoting solution would be exponentially increasing fees for marriage licenses. Three-time loser? Number four’s gonna cost you a cool million bucks.

  24. 24
    chingona says:

    Say if my wife wants to divorce me so she can re-marry a convicted wifebeater and child molester. Shouldn’t I be able to argue that allowing the divorce, so that can occur, is not in the interests of my children. And shouldn’t the court be able to consider their interests in deciding whether to grant it.

    Or deal with it as a child custody issue.

    This whole thing seems backwards. We have all the resident MRAs and fellow travelers arguing against no-fault divorce because they don’t like child support, child custody arrangements or alimony. Wouldn’t it make more sense to keep working to change the child support/custody issues than make it harder for unhappy people to split up?

  25. 25
    chingona says:

    The free-market responsibility-promoting solution would be exponentially increasing fees for marriage licenses.

    Right-wing social engineering! What did Larry King ever do to you?

  26. 26
    Robert says:

    What did Larry King ever do to you?

    Monopolized the supply of hot babes who are into nerdy guys, mostly. Bastard.

  27. 27
    mythago says:

    The current position is the court can’t even look at the interests of children when deciding to grant a divorce. Any evidence either way doesn’t matter. Why should that be?

    The FORMER position was that the court can’t even look at the interests of children when deciding to grant a divorce. Why should that have been? Hint: between which parties does the marriage exist?

    The idea that alimony is some kind of liquidated damages is equally dumb.

    It’s astonishing how people who claim to care about marriage and loathe divorce spend so little time bothering to understand basic concepts about marriage.

    Robert, I don’t know what the laws of your state are, but if you are in a community property state, the concept is that the marriage is an economic unit, and we don’t assign who owns what based on how angelic each person was. Also, and I don’t mean to sound like I’m beating up on you here, while you suggest that your wife is getting money she’s not entitled to because she didn’t “claim fault or harm”, I believe you also mentioned that some of your deliberate choices caused fault or harm leading to that divorce.

  28. 28
    Robert says:

    The divorce is definitely my fault. If we had fault-divorce (which I do NOT advocate) then she would have a case for maintenance; husband’s bad behavior leads to divorce, divorce causes economic hardship for wife, harmed party (wife) ergo should get some support, so that economic constraint does not require her to remain in bad relationship.

    But since we have a no-fault model, that should be immaterial. And it is immaterial in the decision-making process; my wife has not, in the financial part of the divorce, said “Robert was a bastard and therefore I get money”. She would be getting the same level of support if I were an angel and she were the devil herself and she decided to file for divorce just for spite. In Colorado, couples whose combined income is below a certain point (we juuuuuust came in under the line) have a presumption of marital support from the high-earner to the low-earner, regardless of who filed. It seems to me that a non-earner who chooses to file and who also chooses not to start earning should not be entitled to that presumption without some compelling reason.

    If societally we decide to remove fault from the equation, and we have, then the fact that one person’s behavior or the other or both was objectionable should not bear on the question of support. The way it works now, there is (sort of) a presumption of fault on the part of whichever party earned the most in the marriage. I think that children are entitled to that presumption; children should get financial support from both parents and higher earners should pay more support. I don’t see the rationale for marital support in the absence of other (non-fault) reasons for it; if I’d forbidden my wife to work, or if she was seriously disabled, or if through a refusal on my part to take on significant child custody of very young children it was simply impractical for her to work, or something along those lines, then it would make sense for her to receive support. As it is, she is choosing not to work and the state is rewarding her for that decision by giving her a chunk of my earnings. I am not an MRA, especially on these issues, but (given that the husband is most often the higher earner) the perception/complaint on their part that the courts seen intent on handing women money as a reward for being economically unproductive doesn’t appear to be entirely without foundation.

  29. 29
    Robert says:

    I should also say that I think the contrary is true – if the high-earner files then there darn well ought to be a presumption of support. If I’d asked for the divorce then naturally I should pay her something for some time period to transition her into independent economic life.

    I’m not sure what your point is regarding the assets of the marriage, Mythago. The house and cars and equity and such will get split up 50-50, as far as I understand things, but my income stream derived from my current work, post-marriage, is not an asset of the marriage.

  30. 30
    JutGory says:

    @Grace Amman

    Believe it or not, whether you take me seriously does not appear on my bucket list.

    But, thank you for proving my point. Notwithstanding your apparent inability to discern hyperbole (I don’t REALLY think the wrath of God will rain down on my head if I switch to T-Mobile before my Sprint contract is up), even if my cell phone provider charges me a pro-rated “penalty” of say, $30.00, that is MORE than any penalty that can be awarded in a divorce. Whether the penalty hurts is irrelevant; it is there. With NO-FAULT divorce, damages are irrelevant.

    And then there is this. Grace Amman:

    So if children are involved, we should make it harder for people to extract themselves from an abusive relationship. Got it.

    I did not say that. You assumed it, and you were wrong to do so. And, actually, if I recall correctly, “cruelty” was a basis for divorce in the “fault” system. I would not change that. I think abuse should be grounds for divorce. The fact that you assume that I would believe otherwise suggests that you do not really expect ME to take YOU seriously.

    Mythago @12

    As a contract, off the top of my head, I can’t think of another contract that can simply be repudiated unilaterally. Anyone?

    Sure. Renting an apartment. Most jobs. That’s just off the top of my head.

    Wrong on both counts. Landlords sue tenants all the time for damages relating to the breach of a lease or the application of a damage deposit. Depending on the state, the laws regarding damages that can be sought against a landlord for locking a tenant out of a space can be quite punitive (treble damages in some places).

    As for employment law, that is closer, but, still, no. We do have a constitutional amendment against slavery, and involuntary servitude is not permitted, so specific performance of a contract for services is generally not available. So, while most employment contracts are considered to be “at-will,” some states have severe penalties if an employer breaches the agreement to pay the worker for work performed. Likewise, if it is an employment agreement with a term, there are also penalties. If Eli Manning (or Tom Brady, whoever wins) decides to break his contract and go play football for Rams next year (they REALLY need his help), the Giants (or the Patriots) could actually prevent him from working for the duration of his contract with them. The Catholic Church has such a rule (sure, you can get divorced, you just can’t get re-married), but the Catholic Church does not run the Family Courts. So, employment law is closer, but not perfectly analogous.

    Kate @5

    JGory @ 1 said:

    After all, making divorce “no-fault” has not made things any less ugly.

    Did you even read the post??????

    Yes.

    Kate @5

    16% decline in female suicide, a 30% decline in domestic violence and 10% decline in the murder rate of women.

    How is that “not less ugly”?

    I think you might have missed my point. As Ledasmom suggested @2, when there was “fault” divorce, one side had to prove that the other side had broken the marital union. This led to lots of contrived scenarios when the parties wanted a divorce (correct me if I am wrong, but I thought, even with “fault” divorce, a mutual agreement to terminate the marriage would lead to divorce without a showing of fault). It also led to many instances where the parties spied on each other and tried to induce a breach so that the non-breaching spouse would obtain a better result in court. This got very ugly (attempts to induce affairs, concoct abusive scenarios, private investigators, etc.). No-fault divorce was supposed to eliminate that ugliness by simply making it a process where, at the request of one party, the Court will dissolve the marriage and determine the rights of the parties. It has done little to stop the vitriol between the parties. Divorce is, perhaps, as ugly as it has ever been.

    But, to address your point about suicide, for example. We know, or should know, men commit suicide at a much greater rate. I think the number is 9 to 1, depending on the study. But, for sake of argument, let’s say it is 3 to 1 (the numbers don’t really matter as much as the concepts do). We also know, or should know, that 75% to 80% of divorces are initiated by the wife. Before I would say that a 16% decline in female suicide is an improvement, I would like to see the correlation between no-fault divorce and male suicide. The correlations they have made are interesting, but may not tell the whole story.

    So, as a little thought experiment, I would put the question quite bluntly to you: is it better if one woman does not commit suicide if the effect is that 3 men do?

    gin-and-whiskey @8:

    There’s an inherent assumption you are making here:

    You are assuming that it’s better for children (and society at large) to have parents stay in an unhappy marriage against their will, than it is for them to divorce.

    Where are you getting the data for that assumption?

    Mythago makes a similar point, as well. On a micro-level, of course, you can find examples where, even in a non-abusive marriage, it might be better for there to be a divorce than to force the family to stay in a loveless marriage. I will concede that, for sake of argument. However, I think there has been ample research (I am not citing it, you can look it up) that shows that children in single parent homes are more at risk for delinquency, problems at school, drug use, teenage pregnancy and abusive relationships. I would like to see a causation-correlation analysis of this, as well. I believe this research related primarily to households in which there was not a father present. Now, while divorce does not guarantee that there will not be an involved father figure, it does increase the likelihood of that.

    So, to distill my point, if you bring kids into the world, your happiness is secondary to the well-being of your children. Grow up, and, if it is means that you are sad that you have to live with someone you don’t like, then, let me repeat: GROW UP!

    Too often, I have seen, in a divorce setting, one parent will kidnap the children and isolate them from the other parent all for “the well-being of the children.” I have yet to be involved in a case where: 1) that was actually true, and 2) where there was not some unfounded allegation of abuse.

    No-fault divorce has not managed to fix the fact that many, if not most, people act on their emotions. Taking the fault out of divorce does not mean that they will suddenly act rationally in the context of a very intimate and emotional relationship. It was sheer folly to presume otherwise.

    -Jut

  31. 31
    KellyK says:

    So, to distill my point, if you bring kids into the world, your happiness is secondary to the well-being of your children. Grow up, and, if it is means that you are sad that you have to live with someone you don’t like, then, let me repeat: GROW UP!

    So you can teach your children that that’s what marriage is supposed to look like? Yes, sweetie, it’s normal that mommy cries all the time–being miserable is part of being a grown-up.

    Fixing your marriage for your children’s sake is a good thing. I’m not sure staying in a broken marriage is. Especially considering that requiring proof of fault means trapping people who are abused but can’t prove it.

    <

    However, I think there has been ample research (I am not citing it, you can look it up) that shows that children in single parent homes are more at risk for delinquency, problems at school, drug use, teenage pregnancy and abusive relationships.

    But the key question is, more than what? By definition, kids in single-parent homes are kids whose parents have a bad relationship or no relationship. Comparing them to kids with two parents who have a good relationship doesn’t necessarily mean that those two people who still hate each other would improve their kids’ situation by staying together. “At risk” does not mean X causes Y, it just means they tend to appear together. Also, how much more? I expect you’ll argue that any risk to a child’s well-being is unacceptable, but it’s not humanly possible to create a risk-free environment for your kid. It’d be nice if it was.

    I also don’t think people are obligated to arrange their own lives based on general risk statistics that don’t take their situation into account. Are those studies controlled for poverty, for minority status, for involvement of other family members? Someone with a good job and education and a supportive family might look at those statistics and conclude, rightly, that they have a better than average chance of *not* being in that situation.

    Plus, does a kid really want to be the reason that their parents stay miserable? I love my family, I’d have hated for them to have ruined their lives on my account.

    To avoid saying more about my parents than is really appropriate to share, let’s just say that they have a very happy marriage now, but when I was a little kid, they had a rather unhappy marriage. If things hadn’t changed, it would’ve been more than appropriate for them to split up, and I think things did change in part because that was a possibility. If they’d been stuck with each other for the sake of the kids, I don’t think it would’ve been good for us. The fact that they worked things out, realized that they really love each other, and are quite happy together now—yes, that’s an awesome thing. But making them stay together wouldn’t have accomplished that; it was something they had to choose to do.

  32. 32
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    jutgory:
    Before I would say that a 16% decline in female suicide is an improvement, I would like to see the correlation between no-fault divorce and male suicide. The correlations they have made are interesting, but may not tell the whole story.

    So, as a little thought experiment, I would put the question quite bluntly to you: is it better if one woman does not commit suicide if the effect is that 3 men do?

    Seriously? Seriously?

    Headdesk.

    Look, if you’re going to make implicit (or not so implicit) statements like “divorce kills men!” then you need to get some data. Not US. YOU.

    I think there has been ample research (I am not citing it, you can look it up)

    If you want us to accept your research as support for your argument, you can damn well cite it.

    Otherwise, here’s my reply: You’re wrong. Go Google why.

    As for this:

    Wrong on both counts. Landlords sue tenants all the time for damages relating to the breach of a lease or the application of a damage deposit. Depending on the state, the laws regarding damages that can be sought against a landlord for locking a tenant out of a space can be quite punitive (treble damages in some places).

    As for employment law, that is closer, but, still, no.

    Generally speaking, you’re incorrect. There are exceptions in both instances, but tenancies at will/sufferance, rooming houses, and the like, are the most common ways of holding tenancy. Similarly, at-will employment is by far the most common type of employment relationship.

    I might add that while Mythago might be too polite to point it out, my understanding is that she’s an attorney. In which case, she probably knows more than you do on that subject.

  33. 33
    KellyK says:

    I’m not sure what your point is regarding the assets of the marriage, Mythago. The house and cars and equity and such will get split up 50-50, as far as I understand things, but my income stream derived from my current work, post-marriage, is not an asset of the marriage.

    I think this ignores contributions made by the spouse who wasn’t doing paid work to the career of the one who was. In your individual case, I have no idea what your wife’s contributions were, or whether they merit the support that was given. But if one spouse stays home to raise the family’s children, that’s something that the working spouse doesn’t have to deal with. They’re not getting called out of meetings to pick up a kid with a sore throat. They can work longer hours because someone else is taking care of the kids and the house.

    If your wife didn’t contribute to your career in any way, and you’d be making as much or more if she had been working, then I’d say it’s reasonable that you don’t owe her any of your current income. But if she contributed to your career indirectly, she’s entitled to some of the results of that.

    I’m in no position to judge your personal situation, and don’t actually want to, but since you brought it up as an example, that’s the example I’m addressing.

  34. 34
    JutGory says:

    @ Jut:

    It’s “Annam,” not “Amman,” you idiot!

    -Jut

    (Sorry, Amp, if that violates the commenting policy, but he just PISSES ME OFF SOMETIMES!)

  35. 35
    JutGory says:

    gin-and-whiskey:

    I might add that while Mythago might be too polite to point it out, my understanding is that she’s an attorney. In which case, she probably knows more than you do on that subject.

    That is my understanding, too. Her statement, however, smacked of condescension, though (not politeness).

    But, for the record, what do you think I do for a living (as if that is relevant)?

    And this:

    Look, if you’re going to make implicit (or not so implicit) statements like “divorce kills men!” then you need to get some data. Not US. YOU.

    I think there has been ample research (I am not citing it, you can look it up)

    If you want us to accept your research as support for your argument, you can damn well cite it.

    Otherwise, here’s my reply: You’re wrong. Go Google why.

    Okay, first of all, your quotation is dishonest. Here is what I said:

    However, I think there has been ample research (I am not citing it, you can look it up) that shows that children in single parent homes are more at risk for delinquency, problems at school, drug use, teenage pregnancy and abusive relationships.

    You took my statement out of context. My statement that I was not going to cite research had to do with the effect of divorce on CHILDREN, not divorce kills men. That was a different point.

    But, if it makes you feel better, let me google that for you: http://lmgtfy.com/?q=bad+effects+of+fatherlessness

    -Jut

  36. 36
    Kate says:

    So, as a little thought experiment, I would put the question quite bluntly to you: is it better if one woman does not commit suicide if the effect is that 3 men do?

    The changes in divorce law had “no discernable effect” on male suicide rates (p. 276).
    http://bpp.wharton.upenn.edu/betseys/papers/DivorceQJE.pdf

    But, should women in general be required to give up their own mental health to protect the mental health of their male partners? No, not even if, on average, men suffer more than women benefit.

  37. 37
    Anonymous says:

    @Kate:

    That study states the decline in suicide rates in women “suggests an aggregate decline of 5–10 percent” pg 270. An important point with this is the following quote “Note that the dependent variable is the suicide rate of all
    persons, not just those who have been married.” (pg 275)

    The authors were careful to point out that the domestic murder data did include victim-perpetrator status. Since they did not do so for the suicide data, it appears that they did not include the marital status data for suicides, possibly because it was not available. They appear to have included suicide rates for never-married people as well, in which case the decline in suicide rates could have nothing to do whatsoever with the married/divorced cohort In that case, they have mistaken correlation for causation. The suicide decline could also be explained by greater social acceptance of single motherhood and teenage girls having more agency in choosing to give birth to and keep their out-of-wedlock babies, which is another significant social trend occurring at the same time as no-fault divorce.

    Following that, your claim that divorce is good for reduced female suicides is invalid, or at least inconclusive from the report you have cited.

  38. 38
    mythago says:

    Robert: If your point is “the low earner forfeits support if initiating divorce without a show of fault,” then we’re really back to fault-based divorce, and we’re putting the burden of showing that fault on the partner with fewer resources. In your case, it may be that your soon-to-be-ex was a slacker. On Earth Prime, where Bizarro Robert insisted that she stay home, sabotaged her attempt to earn income, and then regularly had gang bangs with the Pittsburg Steelers while carefully insuring his wife would never be able to gather enough evidence to prove adultery, then it would be a little unfair to say “prove it or lose it”. The trade-off with no-fault is that we don’t get to punish the guilty, but we also don’t get to gratuitously beat up on the innocent. By the way, I should emphasize here that I’m not offering any opinion or finger-wagging about your personal situation.

    JutGory: You’re moving goalposts. Your question was “As a contract, off the top of my head, I can’t think of another contract that can simply be repudiated unilaterally. Anyone?” And as a counterargument, you confuse termination of a contract with breach of a contract. Take this as condescending if you feel the need to, but I’m going to do you the courtesy of assuming that your confusion on this was genuine and not a deliberate attempt to obscure the argument.

    “Well your landlord can’t change your locks” is conflating the fact of repudiation with means. She can’t lock you out, but she can serve you with a Notice to Quit, terminating your contract to rent your apartment unilaterally. If we extend the analogy to marriage, your spouse cannot divorce you by simply abandoning you, or cleaning out your bank account. But your spouse can unilaterally end the marriage by following the legal procedures for doing so – just as your landlord can end your lease by following the legal procedures for doing so.

    You are making this same mistake regarding employment: the default in the US is that you can quit at any time or your boss can fire you at any time. That is, either of you can unilaterally repudiate the agreement by which your boss pays you a certain wage in return for certain work. Now, of course your boss must pay you any wages owed – analogizing to marriage, just as you have to divide your property with your spouse, and one partner may be required to provide spousal support. But you can still unilaterally repudiate the contract.

    WRT Eli Manning, his specific contract is different from at-will employment, just as a marriage with a pre-nuptial agreement is different from a marriage without. If my spouse and I have a pre-nuptial agreement and I run off with the pool boy, it may cost me a hell of a lot more to do so than if we just plain ol’ married. I might choose not to divorce because I couldn’t afford to pay the support, just as Eli might not choose to end a contract if he forfeits a lot of money or pays a penalty.

    TL;DR: you are wrong on both counts.

    I would think most of us agree that people should not marry foolishly, that they should treat marriage as a serious commitment, and that they should take the welfare of their children very strongly into account in making choices. That is not really an argument for “If your wife is banging the pool boy, you are not allowed to leave her unless you can prove that to a judge by a preponderance of the evidence.” No-fault doesn’t make divorce easy or magically erase custody and support issues; what it does is assume that if somebody is willing to go to court and say “I want out,” that it’s probably best to let them out, instead of saying “Nuh uh, you need her permission” or “Pics or it didn’t happen”. Does this mean some people will divorce who might have worked it out if the bar were a little higher? Probably. It also means that people will not turn to abandonment, murder, perjury and blackmail because they have no other option. I love me a good vintage pulp novel as much as anyone, but I am not going to mourn the fact that “My wife won’t give me a divorce so we have to kill her so we can be together” is a plot that is as much an anachronism nowadays as “We have to find a pay phone!”

  39. 39
    mythago says:

    (As a footnote, I should observe that while employment law and landlord/tenant law draw on contract issues, they are separate bodies of law, and family law is waaaaay different than all of them. I have a general lawyer understanding of employment and family law. I do landlord/tenant cases in my spare time, because I am a softie bleeding heart progressive.)

  40. 40
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Okay, first of all, your quotation is dishonest.

    Drat. There was originally another paragraph in there, which accidentally got deleted. You’re right: as presented, it’s incorrect. But it wasn’t intended to be. I can’t edit it.ng to

  41. 41
    Stefan says:

    I don’t know much about the law, but mythago’s post #37 is very well written and I changed my mind about this issue.

  42. 42
    JutGory says:

    gin-and-whiskey:

    Drat. There was originally another paragraph in there, which accidentally got deleted. You’re right: as presented, it’s incorrect. But it wasn’t intended to be.

    No worries. As Homer Simpson said, “we’re none of us perfect.”

    Words to live by.

    -Jut

  43. 43
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    mythago says:
    January 27, 2012 at 8:26 am

    (As a footnote, I should observe that while employment law and landlord/tenant law draw on contract issues, they are separate bodies of law, and family law is waaaaay different than all of them. I have a general lawyer understanding of employment and family law. I do landlord/tenant cases in my spare time, because I am a softie bleeding heart progressive.)

    You too? I just won a tenant the right to regain their security deposit (plus multiple damages for them, yahoo) about two hours ago. Which is actually not so hard in my state, but can take, as this did, a surprising amount of work that would normally not fly for a $1,200 loss. I’ll make the fun “I’ve got a check for you” call this afternoon.

    I think I like small security deposit cases better than many of my larger cases; I get to feel like I’m wearing the white hat.

  44. 44
    JutGory says:

    Mythago:

    TL;DR: you are wrong on both counts.

    I disagree, but you make a good point: I think we are arguing past each other. I was not moving the goalposts in talking about “repudiation,” but I was a bit unclear. Any contract can be repudiated, in the sense of an anticipatory or actual breach, but there is always a remedy (damages). And “repudiation” is different from both “breach” and “termination,” though there is some overlap in the concepts. I think you responded less to the idea of the “breach” than to the “remedy.” But even there, I think you have a problem. Changing the locks, or serving a Notice to Quit can both be problematic. But, I would acknowledge that changing the locks is probably a breach (hard to say, as statutes can come into play), while a Notice to Quit may simply be a termination (if there is justification) or a repudiation (anticipatory breach) if there is no right to terminate the tenancy.

    And, yes, I agree, landlord/tenant and employment laws do confuse the situation from simple contract law. But, those were your examples.

    So, to try to re-phrase my question more clearly: “As a contract, off the top of my head, I can’t think of any other sort of contract that can simply be repudiated by one party, without providing the other party with a legal remedy. Anyone?”

    Okay, I think that is clearer, but not perfect. Rescission (undoing the contract) is a remedy which does not require a breach (and it is the closest thing you might have to a divorce), but it requires some sort of fault.

    In short, I am still convinced that the marital contract is unlike any other contract, in that 1) it can be dissolved through unilateral action; 2) a breach by one party or the other is irrelevant to whether it will be dissolved; and 3) damages are unavailable.

    TL;DR: Mythago and I are still in disagreement, but I am not sure if we have agreed to disagree; I know I haven’t.

    -Jut

    -Jut

  45. 45
    Ampersand says:

    @ Jut:

    It’s “Annam,” not “Amman,” you idiot!

    -Jut

    (Sorry, Amp, if that violates the commenting policy, but he just PISSES ME OFF SOMETIMES!)

    I’ve had it up to here with you two guys bickering! One of you has got to go.

  46. 46
    Mythago says:

    JutGory: Why do you think filing for divorce is a repudiation and therefore a breach requiring damages, rather than a termination that doesn’t? Particularly given that divorce is a lawsuit and so the “contract” does not terminate until a court says it does?

    Again, to answer the question I believe you think you were asking, a lease and employment are agreements that one party can end without paying damages. That is also true of any contract that SAYS that it may be terminated by either party unilaterally (usually with some notice required). So I’m not sure what you’re trying to say. Are you claiming that marriage is a contract in which seeking to have a court terminate the contract it, itself, a breach unless that party proves the request is based on a breach of the contract’s provisions by the other party? And if so what is your basis for that?

    Because what I’m getting is that you think it’s not fair for one person to be allowed to leave a marriage unless the other spouse is probably a complete asshole. Which, okay, that’s your view, but “marriage is a contract and we don’t allow that in any other contract” is false.

  47. 47
    Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Kelly K:

    I also don’t think people are obligated to arrange their own lives based on general risk statistics that don’t take their situation into account.

    I’m applauding this.

    From what I’ve heard, a big risk for divorced men is that if their wives were taking care of their social lives, the men can end up isolated and depressed, and that such isolation is more likely to happen to men than to women.

    I have no opinion about whether it’s more likely to be a result of men not doing the work of maintaining relationships or women who don’t like their husband’s friends and relatives.

  48. 48
    Elusis says:

    I’ve posted similar material before in other threads about divorce, but I’ll post it again.

    “Staying together for the sake of the children” is a harmful myth.

    (Summary: children whose parents fight a lot but stay together have more conflict in their adult relationships than children whose parents divorce and fight.)

    “The basic implication is, ‘Don’t stay together for the sake of the children if you’re in a high conflict marriage,’” Live Science quoted study researcher Constance Gager, of Montclair State University in New Jersey, as saying.

    For the study, Gager and her colleagues analyzed the results of a national survey involving nearly 7,000 married couples and their children in the United States.

    The researchers found that children who grew up in high conflict families fared better in their adult relationships if their parents got a divorce.

    If we’re referencing credentials in this thread, I have a PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy and have been a practicing/teaching MFT for almost 15 years.

  49. 49
    Jake Squid says:

    That is also true of any contract that SAYS that it may be terminated by either party unilaterally (usually with some notice required).

    Absolutely correct, Mythago. I deal with these all the time. It’s also true of cell phone contracts, once you’ve gotten past the initial term and gone month to month, that either party can cancel at any time with no notice.

  50. 50
    Grace Annam says:

    JutGory:

    @Grace Amman
    Believe it or not, whether you take me seriously does not appear on my bucket list.

    You had me worried, for a moment there. I thought I had misspoken and was going to have to apologize. But then I checked, and…

    Since the original post provided evidence that going to no-fault divorce has made things less ugly, perhaps you could bolster your contradictory assertion with some evidence, too. That is, if you want anyone to take it seriously.

    … no, it turns out that I correctly addressed your assertion, and not you personally.

    So that’s all right.

    It’s “Annam,” not “Amman,” you idiot!

    Thank you for noticing, and correcting. Names are important.

    So, re-reading my reply, I see that I was snarkier than is my wont (or at least, than is my self-perception of my wont). I took some time out today to ponder why. Here are the results of my pondering.

    On reflection, I realized that I had an unexamined emotional investment in this issue. I have responded to a lot of domestic dispute calls, probably well in excess of a thousand. Many of those were, superficially, merely verbal arguments. But enough of them involved injuries and hospitalization that they tend to run together in my mind. Many of them involved justifiably terrified people who are watching their hopes and dreams disappear in bruises and blood, or chokeholds and threats of torture delivered in hisses through gritted teeth. A lot of the time, some of those terrified people were children.

    Undoubtedly, my experience suffers from the worst sampling bias: I get sent to the worst portion of the bell curve of domestic incidents. Nonetheless, when I, personally, think of reasons why someone might want a divorce, my mind flashes to a memory I have of myself stepping gradually around a hospital bed with a camera, methodically photographing the cuts and swollen flesh of a particular woman.

    So when you drew an analogy between marriage and cell phone contracts, I experienced a degree of outrage. You could have no idea that I was bringing a bunch of domestic violence incidents to the party, because I didn’t tell you, because I wasn’t conscious of who was in the room with us until I took a moment to look around.

    So, I apologize. Not for what I said, but for neglecting to provide context so that you had a shot at understanding where I was coming from.

    Now, before anyone says, “Well of course we weren’t talking about domestic abuse! That’s not the topic at all!” remember that not all abuse is visible. Not all abuse is provable. Not all abuse is even articulable by the victim. I’ve had abuse victims look me in the eye, after I explain that they have a right to not be hit, and say, “I thought it was normal. I thought everyone went through this.” I’ve had victims relate a long history of abuse which was not criminal, but was abuse nonetheless.

    So the thought of at-fault divorce turns my stomach. Sometimes someone in a relationship needs to get out, and they should not have to justify it to anyone, and they for damn sure should not be kept in a relationship because there are kids in the relationship. As Elusis pointed out, even between parents who fight, children of divorced parents have less conflict in their adult relationships, and as chingona pointed out, the welfare of the kids is the province of the custody process.

    JutGory:

    Too often, I have seen, in a divorce setting, one parent will kidnap the children and isolate them from the other parent all for “the well-being of the children.” I have yet to be involved in a case where: 1) that was actually true, and 2) where there was not some unfounded allegation of abuse.

    Leaving aside “kidnap” (which denotes an illegal act) I have seen cases where one parent isolates the children from another parent for the well-being of the children, and where the parent doing the isolating was demonstrably correct. I was part of such an investigation in the last month.

    I have also been involved in plenty of domestic violence cases involving divorce proceedings where all allegations of abuse turned out to be founded in fact. Yes, some of them turn out not to be. But I’ve seen plenty which were.

    JutGory:

    So, to distill my point, if you bring kids into the world, your happiness is secondary to the well-being of your children. Grow up, and, if it is means that you are sad that you have to live with someone you don’t like, then, let me repeat: GROW UP!

    Ah, scrumptious!

    “To be able to destroy with good conscience, to be able to behave badly and call your bad behavior ‘righteous indignation’ — this is the height of psychological luxury, the most delicious of moral treats.”
    —Aldous Huxley

    “How many barrels will thy vengeance yield thee even if thou gettest it, Captain Ahab? It will not fetch thee much in our Nantucket market.”
    —Starbuck in _Moby Dick_, if memory serves.

    Yes, parents have the obligation to look after the well-being of their children, and to do it in the most adult, responsible manner they can manage. Sometimes their best isn’t enough. In the context of a marriage gone bad, sometimes the best interest of the children is divorce.

    As Homer Simpson said, “we’re none of us perfect.”

    Amen to that.

    Grace

  51. 51
    Megalodon says:

    Leaving aside “kidnap” (which denotes an illegal act)

    Yes, it does denote an illegal act, even when a parent does it. But when a parent “kidnaps” a child from the other parent, courts and jurisdictions sometimes do not take it as seriously as when a stranger kidnaps a child. Just ask Tiffany Rubin or David Goldman.

    “How many barrels will thy vengeance yield thee even if thou gettest it, Captain Ahab? It will not fetch thee much in our Nantucket market.”
    —Starbuck in _Moby Dick_, if memory serves.

    Yes, that was Starbuck.

    “Nantucket market! Hoot! But come closer, Starbuck; thou requirest a little lower layer. If money’s to be the measurer, man, and the accountants have computed their great counting-house the globe, by girdling it with guineas, one to every three parts of an inch; then, let me tell thee, that my vengeance will fetch a great premium here!”

    “He smites his chest,” whispered Stubb, what’s that for? methinks it rings most vast, but hollow.”

  52. 52
    Dianne says:

    The free-market responsibility-promoting solution would be exponentially increasing fees for marriage licenses. Three-time loser? Number four’s gonna cost you a cool million bucks.

    I’m up for it. The funds raised can be used to fund the psychoanalysis.

  53. 53
    Kate says:

    Anonymous @37

    You’re cherrypicking quotes from the analysis section. Their ultimage conclusion was that female suicide declined by 8-10% (p.276) and that “Overall, the observed correlation between the adoption of unilateral divorce and the decline of female suicide is robust…” p. 279.

    And, yes, different studies have different results. The study cited in the post above, which I used initially, has higher results for the reduction in female suicide. Still, I have two souces indicating that women’s suicide rates went down as a result of no-fault divorce. Where’s your support for the argument that men’s suicide rates went up as a result???

  54. 54
    Robert says:

    Mythago, I am not saying a filing party should have to show fault to get support; I am saying that a filing party should have no presumption of support. You want to be independent again; ok, be independent.

    Kelly, that can definitely be the case. It can also be the case that the other spouse was a hindrance to the career. If the court is going to examine that and collect evidence, ok. But I see no reason to presume either way.

  55. 55
    KellyK says:

    Robert @ 54, I think my presumption comes from the fact that women do more of the housework and child-raising in most cases even when both partners are working full-time. So I would be really surprised if someone working full-time with a wife not doing paid work was doing 50% or more of the childcare and housework. And even in jobs where you have a certain degree of flexibility, the person who has to leave work to pick up a sick kid or can’t work late ever is going to be perceived differently.

    You’re right, it shouldn’t be assumed without evidence. Not much of anything should. But I think it would take more to convince me that the working spouse got no career benefits from the non-working spouse than that they did.

    (I wanted to touch on when that role is reversed–a non-working husband & a working wife, but my dogs are demanding to go to the dog park. Let’s just say I wouldn’t assume that he’s sitting on his ass playing Skyrim even if that is the stereotype, and I’ll be back.)

  56. 56
    Schala says:

    What is a reasonable amount of housework for the average person, who is not a neat freak, and without counting children?

  57. 57
    mythago says:

    You want to be independent again; ok, be independent.

    Why should that mean “pretend the marriage never happened”? Again, not saying anything about your situation specifically, but the flip side of that is “Don’t want to be on the hook if you get dumped? Don’t get married.” Marriage is an economic arrangement, which comes with economic obligations.

  58. 58
    KellyK says:

    Schala, I think it depends. Reasonable for someone who’s working full-time versus reasonable for someone who’s working part-time, versus someone who’s sick, or disabled, or working and taking classes.

    Assuming you have the physical capacity and available time, I would say a reasonable minimum is probably keeping dishes clean on a daily basis and wiping down counters after preparing food, keeping laundry up to the point that you have clothes to wear and wet towels don’t sit around collecting mildew or developing intelligence, vacuuming every week or so, and dusting occasionally. Oh, and bathrooms need to be cleaned, I don’t know, every couple weeks maybe. (I’m so the wrong person to ask this question!)

  59. 59
    Schala says:

    Personally here, we live in a 3 rooms + a bathroom apartment, and 2 hours a day + whatever time to prepare food would almost be overkill for doing everything. We have no lawn, we are renters, not owners.

  60. 60
    Robert says:

    Mythago, I agree that it comes with obligations. The obligations to children persist; I see no reasons why obligations to adult individuals should do so, when those adults choose to dissolve the bond. If Microsoft lays me off without cause, they owe me (indirectly) benefits; if I quit, they don’t owe me squat.

    I am open to arguments as to why the obligation should persist; as Amp notes, marital support is becoming uncommon. Why is the trend wrong?

  61. 61
    Bloix says:

    There’s a good chance that what the study is seeing is correlation and confusing it with causation.
    Unilateral no-fault divorce comes about through legislation. That means that state legislators have to be elected who will vote for it – and that can’t happen until there have been widespread changes in social attitudes.
    Strict, fault-based divorce regimes, I would suggest, correlate well with patriarchal societies in which women are viewed as inferior and dependent, husbands are viewed as rightfully dominant, children are viewed as property of the father, sex outside marriage is stigmatized, etc., etc.
    No-fault divorce doesn’t pass the legislature until these attitudes are no longer strongly held by the majority of voters.
    So it may be that the easing of access to divorce is a lagging indicator of changes in social attitudes, and it’s the overall change in society that leads to the improvement in quality of life for women, not divorce in and of itself.

  62. 62
    KellyK says:

    Schala @ 59, that sounds about right. Our place is 3 bedrooms too, but we have a yard, and two hours a day would probably keep things up pretty well. Call it 3 or 4 if you add in meal prep and yard maintenance. Not that the yard needs an hour every day, but the yard work tends to come in large chunks–leaf raking and snow shoveling and all that. There’s also more maintenance if you own, since if things need paint, or rust removed, or minor repairs, that’s on you rather than on the landlord.

    I don’t think just keeping a house up would be a full time job unless you include a lot of cooking from scratch in that, or you’re very neat, or you have small children who will undo hours of work in a matter of minutes if you do something foolish like blink or pee while they’re awake. (And I still wouldn’t be counting childcare, just kid-related messes.)

    But I don’t think it would have to be a full-time job to benefit another person’s career. If someone else is doing 2-4 hours of work to keep everything up, that’s an hour or two that the other person doesn’t have to spend *after* they get home from work.

    For example, when I got my master’s degree, I did very little housework of any kind while classes were in session. I worked, I did homework, and that was pretty much it. By putting food in front of me and keeping the house from falling apart, my husband made it possible for me to get that degree while working full-time. If I’d had to do the reasonable grown-up’s 50% of the work of maintaining our home, I don’t think I’d ever have finished that degree. And doing it that way meant my company paid for it, rather than me, so I didn’t have to take out ugly student loans. I doubt he spent two hours a day on housework, but there was a definite benefit to my career from what he did do.

    Then again, he was working full-time, so maybe I’m proving Robert’s point that there’s no correlation between work status and whether you help or hinder the other person’s career.

    But I think the situation where one person works full time and the other person doesn’t work at all, where the non-working spouse is doing less than half the housework, childcare, maintenance, and errand-running is rare.

    Childcare is a more direct benefit, because your work doesn’t really care if your dishes are clean or if you’re eating take-out six nights a week, but they definitely care if you have to leave work to deal with kid-related emergencies.

  63. 63
    mythago says:

    Robert, what if you quit because your boss at Microsoft is harassing you, or plays pranks that make it impossible for you to do your work? (That is, from your point of view, it’s constructive discharge.)

    The presumption exists because getting married is not like being employed (I hope you see the problematic idea that one spouse is Microsoft in your analogy). You do not have legal obligations toward Microsoft as you do toward a spouse, nor do you enjoy particular benefits from Microsoft other than those of an employee or contractor.

    If you want to be in a relationship with a woman where you only support her as long as she puts out and keeps house, you can do that thing, but that’s not marriage. It’s like complaining that my boss doesn’t let me work a fixed number of hours; well, duh, I didn’t sign up for an hourly position.

  64. 64
    chingona says:

    Yeah. I have to say I’ve never thought of my husband as my employer or vice versa, even when I was maintaining the household while he went to school and only worked about 10 hours a week. If it’s any sort of economic arrangement, it’s more like being partners in a small business, and it’s certainly not unheard of for one partner to buy out the other partners share if the business arrangement isn’t working any more. If you want to make problematic analogies, you could just as easily describe spousal support as being like buying out the other person’s share or interest.

    As an aside, this is why I would never stay home full-time with my kids. Things would be really tight, quite uncomfortably so, if I had to provide for my kids on just my salary, but I could pretty much do it. (Daycare costs would be the thing that would break me, and that would be covered under child support.)

    That said, and as a further aside, I had been under the impression that Robert was a proponent of the “division of labor” model where one parent stays home with the kids and the other provides most of the family income. Perhaps I was mistaken. Maybe in those discussions he was merely being descriptive … saying that “some people” prefer that model and there’s nothing wrong with that. Well, if there isn’t going to be any spousal support, then yeah, there’s something wrong with it.

    ETA: All caveats about this comment not being about Robert’s specific situation, but a general comment about the idea of the non-working spouse automatically not getting support if he or she is the one who files for divorce. Maybe the way different factors get weighed should shift, but I wouldn’t be comfortable with a blanket rule like that.

  65. 65
    chingona says:

    On the housework front, having kids changes things exponentially. It’s not just that they undo the work you just did (though they do). It’s all the work they generate in addition to the pre-existing work. (Every week, I manage to be surprised yet again at just how much laundry they can generate.) It’s the time you have to spend dealing with them that takes away both from the time you have to do the other stuff and from the energy you have to do the other stuff.

    And … especially if you have either two kids in the standard 2-3 years apart range or if you have more than two kids at all, the cost of childcare starts to become a serious issue. The year we had two kids in daycare, my net take-home pay after paying for childcare was $200 a month. It was worth it to me to keep working mostly to maintain my ability to keep working at all in my field. In case you haven’t heard, newspapers are pretty troubled. If I were to take a few years off, I would not expect to ever be able to work again. (Which, if we were to split up, would leave me up shit creek.)

    But if we had three kids? We would be losing a substantial amount of money. One of us would have had to stay home – whichever was the lower earner – or face losing hundreds of dollars a month. For us both to work, with three kids, would seriously jeopardize our ability to cover our other expenses, like food and shelter. So in those situations, the stay-at-home parent is contributing not just uncompensated labor, but cold, hard cash to the family bottom-line, at the expense of his or her ability to support themselves financially should the marriage break up.

    I am well aware that the situation I’m describing doesn’t apply to all families in which one spouse doesn’t work, and the financial value of staying at home diminishes as the children enter school. There are lots of situations in which spousal support would be unnecessary or inappropriate. But it still has a place, at least as a transitional support for the first few years.

  66. 66
    Robert says:

    Sigh.

    I am not saying that a non-working spouse should not get support if they initiate the divorce.

    I am saying that there should not be a PRESUMPTION of such support. The initiating spouse should need to show cause – not fault, necessarily, as under the old model, but CAUSE – some reason that, in this particular marriage at this particular time, the working spouse should continue to provide economic support. I can think of a number of scenarios where courts ought to find in favor of such support; I cannot think of a justification why they should ASSUME IT SHOULD BE PAID BY DEFAULT.

    Sorry for the caps but it seems like certain key words are not getting through.

    “If you want to be in a relationship with a woman where you only support her as long as she puts out and keeps house, you can do that thing, but that’s not marriage.”

    So marriage is a relationship where a man supports a woman regardless of her contribution to the joint entity? Perhaps I’m getting misled by a personally-directed rather than rhetorical “you”, but this seems awfully sexist.

  67. 67
    Elusis says:

    An anecdote.

    I was seeing a woman in my private practice for symptoms of depression. She and her partner had a toddler, and she was pregnant a second time.

    At one session, we began to talk about the division of labor and the hours each of them worked. She reported that her partner got up for work at 7, left at 745, and came home at 530. Once he came home, he would cook about two days a week, which took about an hour (but he never cleaned up.) About two or three days a week, he would give the toddler a bath. He would run errands associated with their cars. He would do a load of laundry if she asked him to.

    For her part, she got up at 6am to get breakfast started and deal with the toddler who was an early riser. She reported that her work usually ended around 10pm, when she would take her own shower and go to bed.

    On weekends he usually took at least one day to to pursue solo exercise or spend time with his friends. About twice a month he would take the toddler out for an hour or two, time which she usually used to do housework that would go faster without the child underfoot.

    We made a list of all the things she was responsible for in the relationship. It covered five pages. And included all kinds of labor that frequently gets overlooked in a relationship, things like
    - weekly meal planning, grocery shopping, grocery budget management (finding coupons and sales), maintaining a mental list of pantry supplies and staples so things wouldn’t run out, strategic planning of cooking and leftovers use to avoid food waste, regularly cleaning out the fridge
    - maintaining a mental list of the clothing sizes and preferences of all people in the household, pre-laundry prep (sorting, checking for stains and treating them, checking pockets), keeping laundry supplies stocked, replacing clothing for all people in the household as needed due to growth/season/things wearing out, clothing budget management (finding sales)
    - keeping up with extended family relationships including her in-laws – keeping track of birthdays and anniversaries, shopping for and mailing cards/gifts, keeping track of phone numbers and addresses, sending thank-you cards when gifts came at birthdays and holidays, planning family visits, making regular phone calls to various extended family on both sides to facilitate their relationship with the toddler
    - keeping track of the medical needs of all household members – knowing medical conditions and allergies, keeping prescriptions regularly stocked, keeping first aid supplies regularly stocked, keeping track of the toddler’s vaccination schedule, tracking the toddler’s growth and development to report to the family doctor, scheduling doctor’s appointments for all family members, taking the toddler to the doctor for the whole sequence of “well baby” visits and beyond
    - in addition to the overwhelming majority of the actual housework, keeping cleaning supplies adequately stocked, keeping housework tools (vacuum etc.) in working order, decision-making and researching costs of additional services (carpet cleaning, yard maintenance), securing dangerous products away from the toddler, keeping other household supplies adequately stocked (office supplies, non-food kitchen needs, etc.), keeping a household budget

    We spent almost two hours just drilling down into all the things she was responsible for, this “non-working” mother whose husband basically clocked out at 530 several days a week and on the weekends while she worked 16 hour days, 7 days a week.

    I also feel it’s important to note: I was not treating the husband in this case. Therefore I wasn’t able to get his side of things. However a few weeks after we made this list, she asked for a meeting with him, and presented him the list. According to her, he agreed it was “basically accurate” and didn’t dispute her estimate of his contributions.

  68. 68
    Grace Annam says:

    Robert:

    non-working spouse

    I know that this was not your point, and I know that you already know the point I am about to make, but I think this term is problematic enough to flag it. I have met plenty of spouses (more usually women but not always) who did not get a paycheck for their labor, but I have met very few spouses who do not work. They exist, sure: those with the means to have enough domestic help such that whatever they choose to do is basically optional. I think it is far more typical that the person spending more time at home is the one working more actual hours, and this becomes a virtual certainty when there are children full-time in the household. To mirror your point, it does not HAVE to be that way, and one should not ASSUME that it is that way, but if you had to BET and then lift the lid and look at how Schrödinger’s Family does it, that’s where the smart money is.

    chingona:

    On the housework front, having kids changes things exponentially. It’s not just that they undo the work you just did (though they do). It’s all the work they generate in addition to the pre-existing work. (Every week, I manage to be surprised yet again at just how much laundry they can generate.) It’s the time you have to spend dealing with them that takes away both from the time you have to do the other stuff and from the energy you have to do the other stuff.

    Yes, yes, yes! One way to look at overtime is the way organizational managers and the main-breadwinning-spouse tend to look at it, is the simple way: “You’ve already worked 45 hours this week. What’s another hour? That’s a mere 2.2% more!” Another way to look at it is the way employees, secondary-breadwinners, and other people vulnerable to thoughtless exploitation might think of it: “168 hours will happen this week. I’m going to try to sleep for, oh, 48 of them (running total down to 120). Food purchase, storage, prep, consumption and clean-up, call it 25 hours (95). Laundry, call it 3 hours (92). Etc, etc, [insert Elusis’ clients’ list here] (2). Now you want me to give up a precious hour of my discretionary two hours per week? Are you INSANE?”

    Grace

  69. 69
    mythago says:

    Robert: I know what you meant. The presumption is there because we presume that the marriage is a joint economic unit, and that if one spouse left the workforce or took a lower salary or stayed home to deal with the kids, that was a mutual decision made for the benefit of the marriage. Usually, a “presumption” in the law means “starting point”; it doesn’t mean “you can’t prove otherwise.” So, assuming you are stating the law where you live accurately, the burden is on the spouse who doesn’t want to pay support to show such support isn’t deserved. I’m not sure why you think that is inconsonant with the assumption that marriage is a joint economic unit. If I were to run off with the pool boy, my husband’s ability to support himself after a divorce would be severely handicapped by our mutual decision that he stay home and take care of the kids. I don’t think it’s unfair for the law to recognize that he is in a different situation than I am, and to presume that’s partly because of choices I helped make.

    And yes, you are misunderstanding. I’d say the exact same thing if you were divorcing your husband.

  70. 70
    Robert says:

    Chingona – quite right. I am using non-working spouse as a shorthand for non-employed-outside-the-home-to-generate-cash-income spouse.

    Mythago – glad I misunderstood. And I think that what you describe would be fine, but it doesn’t work that way in Colorado. Any couple whose income falls below a certain (upper-middle-class point) does not go through any kind of evaluative process, other than verifying the figures provided by the parties’ financial disclosures, and basically cannot challenge marital support. If my wife is an alcoholic slattern who spends her days popping Seconals and watching clown porn, or if my wife is a hard-toiling domestic goddess whose every moment is spent on childcare and homemaking, if she outright refuses to work outside the home or spends her rare empty moment poring over want ads and mailing out resumes, either way she gets $X per month, per a formula, and the judge basically can’t do anything about it. That’s what the presumption means here.

    If we made more money, the judge would have discretion to not award support. I do not know the justification or reasoning behind the division, but it is definitely there.

  71. 71
    Grace Annam says:

    Robert:

    Chingona – quite right. I am using non-working spouse as a shorthand for non-employed-outside-the-home-to-generate-cash-income spouse.

    Assuming that you are replying to me, since I don’t think chingona made that point: Yes, it was clear that you’re doing that. And doing that, even though it’s common practice, is problematical and I’m arguing that you shouldn’t do it (nor should anyone).

    Grace

  72. 72
    Robert says:

    Hey, if Jut can spell your name Amman, then I can spell it Chingona. Don’t oppress me with your orthodox orthography!

    Apologies. Written in haste, recanted at leisure.

    But to your point – OK, then what are we supposed to use? We don’t have short words for “spouse who would work more if he could but his Parkinson’s makes that difficult so he does do a 2-hour shift at WalMart but that’s about the limit” or “spouse who works like a dog for six months out of the year and then kicks back for the other six and damned if they’re gonna spend any time in the kitchen, that’s why I married you, Larry” or what have you.

  73. 73
    Robert says:

    Mythago (double checked, and yep, it was her):
    “If I were to run off with the pool boy, my husband’s ability to support himself after a divorce would be severely handicapped by our mutual decision that he stay home and take care of the kids.”

    Yes, I understand that. Which is why I said that I have no problem with the presumption in the case where the earning spouse initiates the divorce. Damn right you need to pay the man.

    But if HE decides to run off with the pool boy (probably because he looks like me…the poor guy has become obsessed) then why the hell should you be on the hook for HIS decision to walk away from the Mythago money train?

  74. 74
    mythago says:

    If he filed for divorce because *I* ran off with the pool boy, did he end the marriage, or did I? But that aside, the answer is that I’m not. I’m on the hook for our mutual decision to stay home and deal with cranky teenagers while I go off to lawyer conventions in Las Vegas. That decision didn’t magically not happen because one of us had a madcap fling with the pool guy. Divorce is, as I’m sure your lawyer has told you until you are ready to punch him/her in the chops, about money, not about deciding who is or isn’t an asshole.

  75. 75
    Aquaria says:

    Elusis back @67 made a crucial point here: A lot of the stuff women do, whether they are working or not, is uncredited, time-consuming, detail-oriented busy work. The tasks she listed isn’t unusual at all. Here was the schedule my military husband maintained:

    On alert Wednesday through Wednesday night. Alert was usually hanging out at a dorm. He played guitar, read books and goofed off with other people on alert, and would come back mad if he was actually expected to work during that time. On the Thursday-Sunday rotation when he was off alert, he was off work. He contributed exactly zero to the household. He wouldn’t even keep our toddler while I was at work, didn’t cook dinner, didn’t make a bed or do laundry. Nothing. He goofed off . When he came home, he took off every stitch of clothing he was wearing in the foyer–and left them there. For me to pick up.

    On Monday and Tuesday when he was off alert, he woke up at 6, showered, and reported to work at 7 a.m. He got off work at 4. He came home and goofed off. No housework. Nothing.

    Here was my schedule, regardless of his alert:

    Monday thru Friday: Wake up at 4.30 a.m. Shower and get most of my uniform on (I was in the military as well). Wake up, bathe and dress child. Make breakfast for child, and husband if he was home and awake; I’d eat a fruit rollup while driving to the base. Empty dishwasher and put new dirty dishes in it. Get baby bag ready for day care. Bundle child up for South Dakota weather. Finish dressing myself and bundling up for South Dakota weather. Drop child off at day care center on base when it opens at 6 a.m. Get to workplace at 6:10. Get the shop ready for the working day, catch up on paperwork and other tasks that I couldn’t get to the previous day (or longer). Three times a week, I would work until 4:45, so that I could be at a mandatory workout at 5. Get out at 5:55 and race like my life depended on it to day care center to pick up child before it closed at 6. Otherwise, work until 5:30 and get child. Go home. Make dinner. Straighten house and police the yard. If winter, shovel driveway. Get next day’s uniform ready. Shine boots. Read to Child. Get child ready for bed, and finally get him to conk out. Study for promotion exams. Try to be asleep by 10.

    Friday evening: Go grocery shopping.

    Saturday and Sunday was when I had time to do a thorough house cleaning, vacuuming, windows, bathroom cleaning, laundry–including ironing, cleaning out fridge, and so forth. Get the car taken in for regular maintenance. Go to dry cleaners to pick up/drop off things (you’re always at the dry cleaners in the military!). Pay bills. Husband nowhere to be found for any of this.

    And if you factor in the being there when my child was sick, taking care of the medical stuff, the social stuff, the extended family stuff, planning vacations (do you think he did anything but say, “Let’s go to X”? Give me a break!)–

    I was exhausted. Always.

    And then my (now-ex-)husband wondered why I hated him within a few short years.

    As I told him when he got upset about my telling him I hated him: “I did all the work on top of my demanding career, and you goofed off, and expected a sex slave on top of that. Of course I hate you! You’re a selfish, lazy sexist pig of a jerk! Leave, and don’t come back!”

    Can you believe that even after ten years of being divorced from this guy, he still wanted to do things like tell me his problems and hug me? Gross! What did he think divorce meant? Sheesh, the guy was so clueless that I had to make it clear to him that it meant, “Go away! For good! And don’t touch me! Ew!”

  76. 76
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    I suspect some of the driving force is the perception of things getting somewhat fixed in stone at the time of divorce.

    If Sally was working and Bob was staying home, that’s all well and good. But what if that was all leading up to a plan where–in another year–Bob would work his ass off, and Sally would stay home to work on her pottery?

    Let’s say Bob leaves the marriage.

    Well, in the divorce context it’s going to be very difficult for Sally to suggest that Bob shouldn’t take care of the kids; after all, he’s been doing it. And it’ll be odd to suggest that Bob go back to work, since the overall reduction in Sally’s wages will be far more than Bob’s new-employee takehome pay.

    So what sometimes happens is that Sally ends up, shall we say, a bit stuck. Did Hypothetical Sally agree to take care of Bob while she was working? Yes. but would she have made those choices if she (and presumably Bob) didn’t expect to have things drastically change? Sally may never have wanted to be a wage earner long term, but good luck convincing a judge that it’s OK to reduce the marital income from 100k to 30k because you want to try being an artist.

  77. 77
    Grace Annam says:

    Robert:

    Hey, if Jut can spell your name Amman, then I can spell it Chingona. Don’t oppress me with your orthodox orthography!

    Don’t diss the orthodography. I’ve glared at people for less.

    Robert:

    Apologies. Written in haste, recanted at leisure.

    Say, that would be a nifty cautionary saying, if divorce gets too easy: Divorce in haste, repent at leisure. I’m glad we thought of it.

    Robert:

    But to your point – OK, then what are we supposed to use?

    Oh, Robert. How low thou hast fallen. Are you not a gamer? Did a gamer seriously just say to me, “But the mainstream culture has not given me the word I need, and thus I am helpless to express this concept?”

    Have you no pride, man? Do your players read this blog?

    How about Spouse Working Unpaid At The Homestead? (SWUATH.)

    Unpaid Spouse Working At The Homestead? (U-SWATH.)

    Productive Unpaid Spouse-in-House. (PUSH.)

    Laboring Unpaid Domestic? (LUD. “Ned”, if you want to go all bottles-and-stoppers on someone.)

    Spouse Productive and Married? No, never mind that one.

    Grace

  78. 78
    Robert says:

    The decision didn’t unhappen, but the entity that contracted the decision has dissolved. As G&W just pointed out, does that past decision now control your life forever? After the divorce, and assuming a 50-50 custody split, what if you decide you want to be an artist-slash-SAHM (for your 50% of the time) and move into an old trailer on your mom’s farm and grow your own vegetables? Does your poolboy-whoring husband have the right to preclude you from altering your life course because of the decision that you both made 10 or 20 years ago, since that alteration means you won’t be able to write him fat checks to not work?

    Rather, it seems to me, the divorce creates a situation where a formerly unitary entity (“the marriage”) is gone and done, and with it the decisions and roles that were mutually agreed upon *for a particular context and time*. Created (or recreated) in its place are two individual entities, each of which now has the standard set of adult responsibilities (earn or find a living, take care of one’s children) regardless of what previous trades were made in these responsibilities. There may well be many, many scenarios in which some of these tradeoffs should be persisted for at least a time to allow people to adjust, particularly in cases when a party who was being supported is blindsided by an unforeseen end to the arrangement.

    But the starting presumption ought to be that adults are responsible entities who take care of their own lives. It’s Working Dad’s job to figure out how to find time to be a good parent; it’s SAHMom’s job to figure out how to afford groceries and pay the rent.

    As Amp has said, marital support is becoming increasingly uncommon, largely (I think) because more and more courts are taking this adults-are-adults position as their starting place and saying, in essence, “get a job” to people who have been economically supported by others.

    If this trend is wrong and we should be going the other way, then I am afraid I have to say that the MRAs would be right on one point in that future society: marriage would be a sucker game for the person who is earning a living. Had I been told that my wife would have the option of refusing to work throughout the marriage, of filing for divorce and attempting to take 90% of the custody of our child, and that on top of that would be entitled by presumption and statute to take a healthy chunk of my income as her own on top of child support PRECISELY BECAUSE she refused to work, for a number of years after the marriage…well, I have to say I would have thought a lot harder about getting married. It would have been cheaper – a LOT cheaper – to find an egg donor, pay a surrogate, pay a housekeeper, and rely on the dating market for sex.

    Now in large part my personal problems are caused, not by the bad statutes or the evil presumptions of the courts, but by my own bad choice of spouse as well as by my own errors during the marriage. I own both of the last two, and they are the source of, by far, the majority of my problems. A reasonable woman would have gotten a job after she filed for divorce, thinking “well, I have to pay my own bills now” – and I wouldn’t be paying support now, because a reasonable woman with my wife’s skill set would be working at a level where the support calculation would basically come out as nil. My wife chose to game the system instead, because she wants to be supported. My own errors are contributing to the unhappy custody arrangement, though we are working to get that fixed. Etc. etc. So please don’t think I’m thinking everything would be chocolate and blowjobs if only the wicked courts weren’t screwing me; I’m not.

    But right now in Colorado, the setup is in fact such that marriage is a bad deal for a working or middle-class person who intends to work while having a spouse take care of domestic affairs.

  79. 79
    KellyK says:

    But to your point – OK, then what are we supposed to use?

    How about just stay-at-home spouse? SAHS if you really want to spare your typing fingers.

  80. 80
    KellyK says:

    If this trend is wrong and we should be going the other way, then I am afraid I have to say that the MRAs would be right on one point in that future society: marriage would be a sucker game for the person who is earning a living. Had I been told that my wife would have the option of refusing to work throughout the marriage, of filing for divorce and attempting to take 90% of the custody of our child, and that on top of that would be entitled by presumption and statute to take a healthy chunk of my income as her own on top of child support PRECISELY BECAUSE she refused to work, for a number of years after the marriage…well, I have to say I would have thought a lot harder about getting married. It would have been cheaper – a LOT cheaper – to find an egg donor, pay a surrogate, pay a housekeeper, and rely on the dating market for sex.

    I wonder if the way to make things fairer to the wage-earner in those situations without screwing over the at-home spouse would be to come up with a monetary value to assign to the unpaid work the at-home spouse has been doing, which would consider both the benefit to the wage-earner’s career and the detriment to theirs. (As chingona pointed out, choosing to stay home for even a year or two might destroy your chance of ever working in your field again. At the very least, it will hurt your overall earning power.)

    Once you’ve got that number, which the at-home spouse has essentially paid into the family unit that’s now being dissolved, it can be split 50/50 like everything else. So spousal support in that situation wouldn’t be a permanent thing, but a payment plan on an asset that can’t be sold or divvied up, but still needs to be accounted for.

  81. 81
    chingona says:

    About “non-working” spouse … the problem is … all that stuff that they do – and it is considerable – still gets done in households where both spouses work outside the home.

  82. 82
    chingona says:

    But right now in Colorado, the setup is in fact such that marriage is a bad deal for a working or middle-class person who intends to work while having a spouse take care of domestic affairs.

    Well, they get the spouse who takes care of domestic affairs for as long as the marriage lasts.

    The alternative is to have a marriage where you both expect to work and share household duties. Pretty crazy and far out there, I know, but it’s not totally unheard of.

  83. 83
    chingona says:

    As Amp has said, marital support is becoming increasingly uncommon, largely (I think) because more and more courts are taking this adults-are-adults position as their starting place and saying, in essence, “get a job” to people who have been economically supported by others.

    I was under the impression alimony was on the decline because most women, even women with young kids, work outside the home/for pay.

  84. 84
    Robert says:

    KellyK, that seems like an innovative and productive idea to me. I can see the downsides (the huge raging battle in court over how much the primary homemaker actually did; I can tell you that my wife and I split all the duties but she would testify to very different numbers than I would) but nothing is easy in family law so I’d love to see something like that tried out.

    Your label idea, on the other hand, fails. I was a SAHS – because I worked from the home, and worked irregularly/when I felt like it and so was almost always available to be dad. But if I say “I was a SAHS” the assumption will be that I didn’t work for pay.

    Chingona:
    “Well, they get the spouse who takes care of domestic affairs for as long as the marriage lasts.”

    And that spouse enjoyed the lifestyle provided by the working-for-pay partner which (probably, given rational decision-making by the parties) was significantly greater than the lifestyle that would have been enjoyed had they been selling the domestic services on the open market and living alone. It’s not like the domestic-spouse comes to the mansion, scrubs the toilets, then retires to the woods for a nice meal of grubs under the open sky.

    “The alternative is to have a marriage where you both expect to work and share household duties. Pretty crazy and far out there, I know, but it’s not totally unheard of.”

    I think that’s becoming pretty much the standard model, which I have no problem with, with one major temporary exception: the period when kids are young, most people (me included) REALLY want there to be a full-time parent who isn’t distracted by economic issues. That period isn’t forever, and the percentage of people who feel the need for mom or dad to be on deck 24/7 drops as the kids get older, but assuming people are left free to pursue their own preference in life pattern, I think family courts are going to have to deal with the issue of spouses who have given up careers for a certain span. As our society grows more gender-equitable, if it does, more and more of those spouses will be men but the pattern will remain.

    As for the decline in alimony, you might be right. I am not an expert on the history. But (for example) if my wife was working but making considerably less than me, she would still be getting support. (In fact, the calculation the court uses imputes to her the expected value of her work even if she doesn’t have any; we had a battle over this at temporary orders, with her saying that her self-education in “life coaching” should count as going to school and thus no income should be imputed, and me saying that the income she earned during the one year where she was working entrepreneurially should be used as the figure. We compromised on minimum wage.)

    So lower total figures would be explained by the trend of more equal labor participation, but my impression was that more and more states are simply abandoning the alimony concept altogether save for exceptional circumstances.

  85. 85
    chingona says:

    And that spouse enjoyed the lifestyle provided by the working-for-pay partner which (probably, given rational decision-making by the parties) was significantly greater than the lifestyle that would have been enjoyed had they been selling the domestic services on the open market and living alone. It’s not like the domestic-spouse comes to the mansion, scrubs the toilets, then retires to the woods for a nice meal of grubs under the open sky.

    True enough, though as I’m sure you’re smart enough to realize, it’s not so much what the domestic services would get on the open market but the opportunity costs of not continuing with whatever the domestic-spouse was previously doing in the workforce.

    My point was not that the domestic-spouse totally gets the raw end of the deal.

    You made the comment that I was responding to @ 82 at the end of a long thing about how MRAs have a point about marriage being for suckers @ 78. Why, it’s getting nigh on impossible to find a prostitute who also does the dishes! Seriously?

    My point is that if someone deliberately seeks out an arrangement that is unequal and that’s how that person wants it, it seems a little strange to turn around and complain about how unequal things ended up.

  86. 86
    KellyK says:

    KellyK, that seems like an innovative and productive idea to me. I can see the downsides (the huge raging battle in court over how much the primary homemaker actually did; I can tell you that my wife and I split all the duties but she would testify to very different numbers than I would) but nothing is easy in family law so I’d love to see something like that tried out.

    Thank you. (You’re agreeing with me. Phase one of my evil plan is complete. Should I get you an Obama 2012 sticker when I pick up my own? ;) )

    I think that to try to minimize the arguing over every dish washed and diaper changed, if something like this was to be done, there would be a standard calculation that figured the value of domestic labor, to which you could then plug in the hours of wage earning (e.g., if I’m working 20 hours a week and my husband’s working 40, it’s assumed that I’m doing 75%). Both parties could accept that, or one party could try to show it was off, with the evidence required becoming more substantial at each step. (So, ideally, your lawyer would be telling you it wasn’t worth it to try to convince the judge that you worked twice the paid hours of your spouse and still did 90% of the domestic stuff, but if the assumed calculation was that they did 90, you could probably argue down to 75 or 80.) I don’t think that would stop people from arguing over every detail, but it would at least give a path of least resistance for people who want to be civil (either for its own sake or to pay their lawyer a bit less).

    Chingona, you’re right, well, at least, most of the stuff gets done. I’m pretty sure that I would more than double the amount of domestic stuff I accomplish if I were to stay home, and I think I’d do a lot of it better. (I might actually succeed at growing a veggie garden, cook from scratch more often, etc.) Same thing if my husband were to stay home–I’d walk in to a clean house with dinner in progress, instead of both of us coming home and going “Oh, crap, I guess we should make food.”

    With the model I’m thinking of, though, if both people are working the same amount, they’re each paying into the “family pot” at the same rate, so there’s nothing to split up when the marriage dissolves. (There might be edge cases where there is. Like if my husband had actually worked less to support me through getting my master’s, I got earning potential and he lost it, so I should owe him something in that case.

  87. 87
    Elusis says:

    A lot of the stuff women do, whether they are working or not, is uncredited, time-consuming, detail-oriented busy work.

    Worse still. A lot of it is considered beneath consideration (yes that is an oxymoron).

    My own husband, when I brought up the issue of me doing all the relationship maintenance with his family (translation: making, wrapping, packing, and shipping holiday gifts; thank-you cards; knowing that Mother’s Day is different in the UK than the US and getting a card out at the right time; etc. etc.): “Well I never asked you to do any of that.”

    Another snippet:
    H: “Why do we have four bags of groceries underneath the side table in the kitchen?”
    W: “Because we don’t have enough cabinets to have a proper pantry.”
    H: “If we don’t have the space, why do we have it in the house?”
    W: “We have the space. That is the best option I have for organizing it right now.”
    H: “Well why are there seven jars of pasta sauce in one bag?”
    W: “Because you are a notoriously picky eater, and when you won’t eat anything else with vegetables in it, you’ll eat pasta with red sauce.”
    H: “Well why seven jars?”
    W: “Because last month the grocery store had a sale on buying 3 jars of pasta sauce of a brand I also happened to have 3 coupons for. And then the next week they had a sale on buying 4 jars of a different brand that I happened to have 2 coupons for. And so by the time I bought the sale quantity and applied the coupons and the coupons were doubled, I got those seven jars for the regular price of 2 1/2 jars. And it is much better, if you go on a kick where you only want to eat pasta, to have the jars for cheap, than to pay full store price because we ran out.”

    Note that in this scenario, I am keeping track of our home organization, our food stores, menu planning, his food preferences, his nutritional habits, our grocery budget and the budget as a whole, our overall banking, and the interaction of weekly sales and my stash of carefully clipped and organized coupons. He is keeping track of the fact that he is annoyed because I am “not working,” by which he means “going to full-time graduate school on a full scholarship which is paying for my tuition and both our health insurance, working for free at the school clinic, working as a TA as a condition of my scholarship, and doing 95% of the household work.”

    Today we are friends but he still refers to this as the time when I was “not working.”

  88. 88
    Elusis says:

    Wouldn’t it be helpful to know what the labor of a full-time stay-at-home parent would be worth if one had to contract for it on the open market? Wouldn’t it be nice if someone actually calculated that and issued a number?

    Apparently in 2007, it was about $138,000.

    Given what I’m willing to pay for two hours of housekeeping on Task Rabbit in order to keep back the worst of the entropy on weeks when I am working 60+ hours, I buy it.

  89. 89
    mythago says:

    As Amp has said, marital support is becoming increasingly uncommon, largely (I think) because more and more courts are taking this adults-are-adults position as their starting place and saying, in essence, “get a job” to people who have been economically supported by others.

    Wow, no. Marital support is on the decline because more and more adults leaving marriages have some ability to support themselves, and let’s face it, by “adults” we mean “women”, since in the US the idea that women should have equal opportunity and right to hold down employment and be paid the same as men is kinda recent. Marital support as a lifetime entitlement is on the decline for the same reason; we expect that the person who gave up earning capacity will, to some degree, become self-supporting enough that support isn’t necessary.

    As for decisions “10 or 20 years ago” – 10 or 20 years ago I was the SAH spouse. People change over their lives and their decisions change, just as you note that in many families, Mom stays home for a few years or a few months but not forever, and “I had maternity leave a couple of times” != “I deserve lifetime support forever.”

    And Robert, aren’t you one of those personal-responsibility, don’t-blame-others-for-your-foolishness kind of conservatives? If you “had been told” – dude, you were entering into a legal arrangement, did you stop and check with a family lawyer about what your mutual obligations were and would be? Did anybody forbid you to inquire what would happen if your spouse ran off with the pool boy or developed a personality-destroying brain aneurysm?

  90. 90
    mythago says:

    Elusis @88: Untrue. Economists don’t value generally value individuals’ home services by ‘what would you have to hire a professional for to do X job?’ I mean, if you’re going to estimate the cost of mowing your lawn, do you ignore the fact that the kid down the street will do it for $20 and take an hour, or do you look at a “Lawn Maintenance Specialist” or “Landscaper” and assume it’s $50?

  91. 91
    Schala says:

    My own husband, when I brought up the issue of me doing all the relationship maintenance with his family (translation: making, wrapping, packing, and shipping holiday gifts; thank-you cards; knowing that Mother’s Day is different in the UK than the US and getting a card out at the right time; etc. etc.): “Well I never asked you to do any of that.”

    I have to say I agree with him. I would never make gifts or cards for birthdays, Christmas or any holidays. I’ll show up maybe, if I’m invited to the event (and that’s a big if – I might not want to go myself). But relationship maintenance is very very low on my priority list except with my mother and one of my brothers (and this involves chatting to them online (in messenger or Skype) every month at least, no cards, gifts or phone calls).

    So if someone was doing that for me, I would find it useless endeavor.

    It would be like me saying I’m gathering information about Final Fantasy 13, and how I’m almost encyclopedic about it, but it’s not really useful to my boyfriend who doesn’t even want to play it. It’s a hobby of mine, something I like doing, but not something useful to the household.

    On the other hand, when my mother comes over and cuts my hair free of charge (not that it’s often, it’s probably twice a year – mainly for the maintenance of the fringe in front), I really appreciate the service. It saves me 30$ and annoying waiting times being in an unfamiliar place with a lot of people around me. And she doesn’t cut too much of the main length – which is my fear if I went to a salon. She has a formation (30 years ago) for it, but mainly used her experience to cut our hair (we were four children) since we were kids (I’m the oldest at 29, the others are 27, 20 and 18).

  92. 92
    mythago says:

    So if someone was doing that for me, I would find it useless endeavor.

    You might, but that’s you. “I never asked you to….” is not the same as “I just assumed that you would handle it, so I never had to ask you; but I was happy to coast along on the fact that you did.” The relevant question becomes, if one person stops doing all those I-never-asked-you-for bits of management and unpaid work, would the other person notice?

    As I’ve mentioned before, I had all kinds of fun (not really) when I first started dating men again after a long stretch of dating only women. All of a sudden there were all these little unwritten rules about what I was ‘supposed’ to be doing, unasked, which I wasn’t doing, because I’d gone for many years without anybody being able to rely on assumptions about who did the driving and who kept track of the groceries. It’s comedy gold to see a self-proclaimed feminist man struggle to explain why it was your job, and not his, to make sure the take-out food got put away or to remember his sister’s birthday.

  93. 93
    Schala says:

    All of a sudden there were all these little unwritten rules about what I was ‘supposed’ to be doing, unasked, which I wasn’t doing, because I’d gone for many years without anybody being able to rely on assumptions about who did the driving and who kept track of the groceries.

    It’s a very good idea to negotiate that stuff early in relationships, all relationships. Just so everything’s clear. If the standards fall and less cleaning up is being done, then let it be because both parties are less bothered or hassled to do it (ie they are fine with it not being done at all, or done less), not because they’d rather the other do it, but won’t ask. The latter will almost inevitably lead to resentment.

  94. 94
    james says:

    The relevant question becomes, if one person stops doing all those I-never-asked-you-for bits of management and unpaid work, would the other person notice?

    Dunno. I think the relevant question is is the work economically productive or wasteful. If I have a stay-at-home spouse and they chop wood worth $1000, there’s a economic benefit to me of $1000. Or there could be an opportunity cost, if they lost out on $1000 of income because they could have spent that time working or studying. But if we’re talking about emotional labour and relationship maintenance, how can you put an economic value on it in the context of divorce?

  95. 95
    Robert says:

    Mythago, that’s a fair point about me doing my own due diligence – thanks for the whine check. (It’s a constant temptation, because I Feel Hard Done By, Pity Me.)

    “The relevant question becomes, if one person stops doing all those I-never-asked-you-for bits of management and unpaid work, would the other person notice?”

    That’s not the relevant question. I would have noticed if my ex-wife had stopped organizing the spice rack by particle size; I just wouldn’t have given a shit. The relevant question is “would the other person’s life, in the other person’s opinion, be made worse?”

    KellyK:
    “Thank you. (You’re agreeing with me. Phase one of my evil plan is complete. Should I get you an Obama 2012 sticker when I pick up my own?)”

    Yes. Get me a whole stack, please. I’ll affix a decal of George Bush’s face over Obama’s, and distribute them in progressive Denver neighborhoods to discourage leftists from voting Democrat this year.

  96. 96
    james says:

    Mythago, that’s a fair point about me doing my own due diligence – thanks for the whine check.

    Think you’re being a bit hard on yourself there. Divorce law has changed so much in the last 40 years I doubt there’s many people getting divorced under the legal regime that existed when they married.

  97. 97
    Robert says:

    If I’d been married for 40 or even 20 years that might be a fair point, but not only has it only been 10 years, I was an intimate witness and helper to my ex as she was dealing with the fallout (including support issues) with HER ex.

    So I have no excuse and should be beaten savagely for my temerity in complaining. OFF WITH MY HEAD!

  98. 98
    chingona says:

    I’ll go one further, since so much of this thread has been implicit criticism of Robert, despite all our protestations that it’s not directed at him personally. It’s totally reasonable to expect your ex to get a job. Given the economy, that might be easier said than done, but long-term, it’s totally reasonable to expect an able-bodied adult to work for a living.

  99. 99
    Elusis says:

    mythago@90 – I’m confused about your remark “untrue.” What’s untrue? Untrue that the estimate was released? (presumably not) Untrue that commenters here have been saying “well if we knew what a SAHS’s work was worth…”? Untrue meaning you don’t think the estimate is accurate? I feel like there’s a shorthand being used and I’m missing your point as a result.

    I don’t dispute that one could economize and get a better “deal” in the hypothetical situation of having to suddenly pay for all the work of a SAHS (you could hire an undocumented worker as a live-in nanny for below-market wages and expect her to also do housework and perform sexual favors, for example, or if you were an active part of a church community and your SAHS suddenly died, you could probably count on the congregation to offer you some help here and there for a while, for free) but I think the estimate is interesting to consider, if one valued the services a SAHS provides as a “professional.”

    (Actually, I don’t think sexual services are included in that $138K estimate, probably because it would be “unseemly,” but I bloody well think they should be.)

    And oh man, to your other comment about dating men vs. women: in my grad school program, several women had their first LTR with another woman, and we had many conversations about how it suddenly highlighted all the relationship maintenance behaviors that had just “happened” to fall on them by default over the years.

  100. 100
    Robert says:

    Thanks, Chingona. In fairness to my ex, she is making preparations, in her mind, to work for a living. She is taking “theta energy” life coaching classes (some New Age drivel) and, assuming the supply of suckers and marks holds out, believes this will be a workable business. (As you can tell, I have no cynicism or disbelief about any of this.)

    The objectionable part to me is that she expects everyone else to pay for her living in the meantime, and is acting with extreme irresponsibility towards our finances. As an example, she and the girls are living in the marital home. She listed the mortgage as one of the expenses that she has to pay in her financial affidavits. But she has refused to actually PAY the mortgage (or even contribute towards it), or to move out so that we can rent the house. I was able to pay it from June through December (on top of the marital and child support, and my own living expenses) but I have run out of money and simply cannot afford lawyers, her living, my living, and the house on top of it. So it is likely that the foreclosure process and the final orders hearing will be happening right around the same time.

    Her behavior might be rational if we were underwater on the house, but we have about $70,000 in equity even in this crappy housing market. It’s likely that I’ll get some consideration vis a vis future support for the mortgage payments June – December, but I doubt that the $35 grand in equity I’m going to lose is recoverable.