Jessica Gottlieb isn’t the only one interested in #HelpingYouStayMarried. Enter: Cathy Meyer. Ms. Meyer is a post-divorce coach and blogger who recently posted a piece, No Fault Divorce Laws: The Impact of No-Fault Divorce on Our Children, on DWO, Divorced Women Online.
Ms. Meyer comes to her own special take on all things divorce from being an abandoned spouse. I don’t know how current her bio is, but I am guessing she and I divorced right around the same time. After her “unwanted divorce,” she became a single mother of two. (I add that I am very sorry for her difficulty.) Like many members of the Men’s Rights Movement (MRM), whom she often vocally supports over at the Huffpo, she wants to make divorce more difficult to come by. For those of you who don’t know, no fault divorce laws make it such that neither party has to show any wrong-doing or breach of marital contract in order to get divorced. Wanting a divorce is enough. One party can unilaterally say “This isn’t working for me, I want out.” Game over. Start sorting stuff and the children’s hours into piles, his and hers.
If fault must be proven in divorce, then from the very beginning of the long ugly end, things are adversarial. Inherently, there is less hope for a peaceable, respectfully-negotiated end. Meyer and others seem to think a return to the days of fault divorce would shore up the institution of marriage, by making those who just aren’t happy in their marriages, suck it up and stick it out. Maybe some would and maybe it would be good for society for the next generation to be incubated by a host of quietly suffering miserable adults, who were tripped up by the law at the exit. However, there are some who would be stopped at the door by no-fault laws who really should leave. They’ll stick it out when they shouldn’t, when the situation is more dire than ‘he leaves hair in the sink,’ when the household is what is termed ‘high-conflict.’ (The only thing everyone seems to agree on is that high-conflict is bad for children, both in intact and severed families. For many, violence is the bar, the only factor which can make it morally acceptable for a partner to depart.)
For Ms. Meyer, and the men of the Men’s Rights Movement, it isn’t only high-conflict divorce that is bad for children, it is all divorce. Period. End of conversation. (Just look at the studies, I mean really—those of us who manage to raise decent, responsible, respectful young people by hook, crook, and mindfulness, are the anomalies. Anecdotally, I’d say our numbers are growing, but I am a born optimist and odds-beater, and I am more interested in continuing the conversation after “bad for children,” continuing it into how to make it better, easier.) If you believe that divorce is so bad for children that they are rendered damaged or broken by it, however delicately matters might be handled, then why not be a contentious arse? How could it make things worse? The kids are already screwed.
The MRM and Ms. Meyer think that since divorce is bad, bad, bad for children, the state should be in the business of discouraging it. This call for “reform,” irksomely issued by a woman, a member of the sisterhood, should not be called what it isn’t and it isn’t reform. The no-fault laws were reform. This is a movement to repeal reform, a retrograde movement to whisk us back to 1969. (Ahhhh… the good old days, when a woman’s place was still mostly in the home and an abusive spouse stood a good chance of pinning a woman in a marriage indefinitely.)
I’ve practiced in two states with radically different no-fault laws, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told a controlling, psychologically abusive spouse, “No, Mr. Jones. You can’t make her stay married to you if she doesn’t want to be.”… Fault-based grounds usually include mental cruelty, but true mental cruelty has a psychological component that can make it very difficult for the abused spouse to articulate that abuse. More to the point, the abused spouse may be terrified to describe the relationship on paper and testify about it in a court. And of course, a controlling partner will always choose the path of most resistance to whatever it is that the other spouse wants. —Attorney L.M. Fenton writing at Salon
(To be fair, leaders of the repeal movement say they’ll “educate judges” and judicial discretion will protect women, like it did in the past, which is why our feminist mothers lobbied to change the law in the first place. Of course, the bench remains heavily male, especially in more conservative areas of the country.)
Much of the MRM work is vindictively aimed at squeezing suffering from exes and any old one will do. (I don’t claim for a heartbeat that my ex hasn’t suffered from my work and I regret that.) Imagine Ms. Meyer’s ex reading this passage:
“Children who experienced the divorce of their parents in childhood died about five years earlier, on average, than children who grew up in intact families. I can’t think of a better argument for the need for divorce reform. In cases of a low conflict marriage parents have a moral obligation to keep a family intact because research has shown over and over again that not doing so is detrimental to our children.”
(I bet she has a queue of MRM suitors!) Cathy Meyer’s ex probably would have heard: “Shame, shame, shame on you for killing our children, you selfish bastard.”
I have no doubt my ex would agree with Ms. Meyer. As far as he is concerned, I should have just sucked it up and stuck with a miserable marriage for the good of the kids. (Except, it wouldn’t really have been good for the kids.) If one spouse is forced to stay in a suck-y marriage for the children, do the children really benefit? I’m skeptical. Sure, sometimes parents are just selfish. They feel they deserve to be happy. (How dare they?)
I’ll hastily add, as I have elsewhere, that while all parents hope their children will live happy lives, rarely do they wish them to do so at the expense of others. ‘Should I stay or should I go?‘ is a question rarely cast in black and white. Everyone’s needs are important and obviously those of the innocents must be protected, but as people, even people who are parents, we cannot give up our lives to suffering. I don’t personally believe that doing so is in the kids’ interests anyway. It isn’t what we would have for our own children so it isn’t what we should accept for ourselves.
The real moral obligation we have is to consider the interests of the children when we make our decisions and to make family transitions easier for them, whatever the outcome of the marital relationship—to provide the children with security and stability, and as little drama as can be orchestrated. (It’s no small feat with a powder-keg ex like mine. That’s a lot of tip toeing.) We should be engaged in working out a formula that helps to manage the difficult emotions as we move romantic relationships into mutually supportive co-parenting ones. We should be talking about how to get these MRM blokes to start taking their medication and stop hating their ex-wives and stop writing their children off as ‘broken.’ We should be talking meaningfully about child support which is so frequently appallingly inadequate. We should not be talking about how best to change laws to trap one another in misery—for pity sake, its 2011.