No-fault divorce #HelpingYouStayMarried?

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.

5 comments to No-fault divorce #HelpingYouStayMarried?

  • Postcards from a Pea

    I'm really glad that you brought up this issue because while I am no expert on divorce laws, proving fault just sounds like a the recipe for an ugly and bitter divorce, the opposite of which I am advocating for. Instead of investing lots of time fighting over past wrongs, I'd love to see ex spouses work on forging a more peaceable and workable future for their kids and themselves.

    I agree that we need to stop bickering over why divorce happens or should it happen and focus on making it less destructive for our kids. Check out the article that I wrote on this http://www.postcardsfromapeacefuldivorce.com/1423

    I'm glad to hear someone else advocate for a better way for us to handle divorce other than make it impossible. Thanks!

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  • PostDivorceCoach

    I happen to agree that no fault should NOT be done away with. Many states have a mandatory separation period, which all states should have that can be as short as one year or as long as two. There could also be mandatory counseling during that period. If after that period of time, the couples still want a divorce, let them have it.

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  • Divorced Women Onlin

    Annie, you are making a lot of assumptions about what I feel would be "reform." And doing a lot of reading between the lines of my post and coming up with the wrong meaning or assigning meaning to my words. So, let me set the record straight.

    A few points:

    1. I'm sure the MRM would be surprised to hear that I vocally support them. Hell, I'm surprised to hear that myself. I do support shared parenting and equal parenting rights for fathers who wish to play that role in a child's life. Didn't know that meant I was in bed with the MRM.

    2. No-fault divorce laws do not make divorce less adversarial. The average divorce in this country takes two-five years to litigate and is riddled with conflict. You won't find anything I've ever written stating that I believe there should be a return to fault based divorce laws. What needs to be changed is the broad sweeping assumption by lawmakers that every divorce is the same and should be handled the same by the courts. Taking conflict out of the equation is not going to happen whether a spouse is legally able to use fault or no-fault as grounds for the divorce.

    3. Divorce is "bad, bad, bad" for children Annie and until people like you stop trying to take the spotlight off of what is best for the children and shine it on the adults in a divorce situation, divorce will continue to be "bad, bad, bad" for children. By the way, I also managed to raise decent, responsible, respectful young men…in spite of my belief that divorce laws need to be reformed.

    4. As for my ex and his concern for our children, he has none. He went six years without seeing either one of them Annie and I find your remark offensive to me and my children. You really should not express opinions on the lives of people you know nothing about. You see, I'm different from you. Out of respect for myself and my children I don't air all of my dirty laundry for all to read. Next time you think you know how my ex would respond to anything regarding our children, you need to think again.

    5. I wish my children to live happily and no, not at the expense of others. And, I damned sure would never seek out my own happiness at the expense of my children. If we are to teach our children that lesson, we have to live it ourselves and a parent who selfishly leaves a "suck-y" marriage at the expense of a child's well-being is teaching a child to put their own happiness before that of others.

    6. "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."

    Guess what Annie, none of the above can be done with DIVORCE LAW REFORM. Until there are laws in place that take into consideration that divorce is not only a legal process, it is also an emotional process nothing will change in a positive way for parents or children.

    Until counseling and parenting classes are required in all states those who need to be on meds won't ever be on meds. And our children will continue to suffer the consequences of insane parents who hate their ex.

    If divorce laws were reformed in the way I feel they should be reformed the likes of Glenn Sacks and the MRM "blokes" would really have something to scream about because in my opinion, they are pissed because they are forced to pay and if I had my way they would know what it meant to really have to take financial and moral responsibility for their children.

    Look up the definition for the word reform Annie…"to change into an improved form or condition." Next time you hear someone mention divorce law reform I suggest you don't jump to a negative assumption AND I also suggest you get to know a bit more about that person before you assign a feeling or motivation to them because you got this one all wrong.

    Shame, shame, shame on you. You want to know my feelings on the subject divorce law reform so you can write about me in an informed way, drop me an email.

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    • Annie

      A few points:

      1. I’m sure the MRM would NOT be surprised to hear that you vocally support them. Look at the drooling kudos they gave you for your piece on "Parental Alienation Syndrome" which didn't make the DSM-V draft because it was created by a Father's Rights pseudo-scientist. (In case you wondered, that makes it officially NOT a syndrome.) You have even advocated equal rights for ABUSIVE parents. If my memory serves me (can't find the quote) you said an abuser's relationship with his children trumps a survivor's need for safety. (Never mind that most abusers don't stop with roughing up their wives. They are bullies, duh, and usually NOT model parents. If such a father-child relationship is to be positive and healthy for the child, Daddy needs serious help, not unfettered access. (I never suggested you were actually f*cking an MRM bloke. Hell, I thought you might be one of 'em, with very nice hair.)

      2. "No-fault divorce laws do not make divorce less adversarial." That defies reason. The necessity of proving fault undermines a peaceable resolution. I agree with Lee that a waiting period with mandated counseling and mediation is probably the best policy. "You won’t find anything I’ve ever written stating that I believe there should be a return to fault based divorce laws." So,you're just making the case for a return to the good ol' days, but not actually asserting that we hop into the time machine and fasten our seat belts? You think "mutual divorce" is the way to go? Unless BOTH parties agree, you're stuck like chuck? Doesn't that mean an abusive spouse would have to agree to free his victim? Your concern for domestic abuse survivors is expressed in this comment:

      "I am more interested in protecting a child from the harm parental alienation does than protecting a few women who have suffered abuse…."

      3. "Divorce is “bad, bad, bad” for children Annie…" I do not believe that this need be so. "…and until people like you stop trying to take the spotlight off of what is best for the children and shine it on the adults in a divorce situation, divorce will continue to be “bad, bad, bad” for children." Um, I think that is what I did, dear. "By the way, I also managed to raise decent, responsible, respectful young men…" Congratulations on raising the boys well. We both know that the world need more good men.

      4. I am very sorry for your difficulty. My dad dropped out of my life, too. Probably because my mother was a guilt-monger, too. For one who harps about "parental alienation syndrome" that bit I quoted would be pretty dang alienating. Just sayin.' As to personal offense, talking out of turn, making wrong-headed assumptions, I am sorry. "You see, I’m different from you. Out of respect for myself and my children I don’t air all of my dirty laundry for all to read…." Touche. In case you are wondering, that laundry-airing has been a transformative and healing experience for me and has helped my family immensely.

      5. Obviously, we are not entirely in agreement, here. If my children were faced with suck-y marriage v. divorce, I would want them to explore the options for a peaceable, kind, mutually supportive split, not stick it out for what is culturally presumed to be the greater good.

      6. Glad we agree on something. :-)

      "Until counseling and parenting classes are required in all states those who need to be on meds won’t ever be on meds. And our children will continue to suffer the consequences of insane parents who hate their ex." Agreed.

      "If divorce laws were reformed in the way I feel they should be reformed the likes of Glenn Sacks and the MRM 'blokes' would really have something to scream about because in my opinion, they are pissed because they are forced to pay and if I had my way they would know what it meant to really have to take financial and moral responsibility for their children." I would like you to elaborate on this—I am very interested in what changes in public policy you are actually proposing/backing. Perhaps the subject of a future post?

      Cathy, I may have gotten some things wrong, but I got some right, too. I humbly apologize for offense and next time, I'll email you a draft before posting and we can sort this out before I click publish, okay?

  • endurovet

    “Until counseling and parenting classes are required in all states those who need to be on meds won’t ever be on meds. And our children will continue to suffer the consequences of insane parents who hate their ex.” Agreed.

    Some things just can't be fixed by counseling, parenting classes, or even meds, I'm sorry to say…

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