The Pinko Feminist Hellcat has an interesting essay on divorce and something called a covenant marriage, which Id never heard of until reading her essay (although now that I look at it, it seems like the feministe also mentioned them recently).
Anyway I'm going to sort of agree and disagree with the PFH on this issue. Where I agree is in the beginning:
...In fact, I think divorce is a good thing.
This really gets up the nose of those folks who give us such scintillating social commentary as "No one bothers trying anymore" when the subject of divorce comes up. Because, you know, it's just so darn easy to get a divorce. Untangling yourself from your spouse, working out finances (and in many cases, custody and/or visitation), and moving on is just so. . .so. . easy.
Problem is, for some marriages, it is not only easier, it is preferable, and I am sick to death of hearing about how people just don't take marriage seriously anymore, how people just give up, and how horrible and awful divorce is.
Divorce is horrible and awful unless you're the one stuck in a miserable or abusive marriage. Frankly, I'd be just fine with things if the divorce rate hit ninety percent. I don't care.
Where I think I disagree is the following:
You want to cut down on divorce? How about making it really difficult for people to marry? Now that's obscene.
Look, right now, any man and woman who are both single, pay a small fee, take a blood test, and get a marriage licence. It's easy. I could get married to any willing random guy this week if I wanted to. We have reality TV shows that end in marriage. Hello, Bachelor/Bachelorette? Who Wants To Marry A Millionaire? (Now there was a fairy tale ending. Ahem.) Who Wants to Marry My Dad? I don't see any of the anti-gay marriage folks running about and screeching about Armageddon, about the chiiiildreeen, or about the evils of this decadence. Nope.
I think it would in fact be good to make it harder to get married for all the reasons listed up earlier about why divorce is not as simple and straight forward as people claim. I think we should work on making it as easy as possible to get a divorce amd considerably harder to get married. Oh I also agree with the PFH that there's is nothing wrong with gay marriage and I'm maybe going to go a bit further and state that I see nothing intrinsically wrong with polygamy, polyandry either. The reason for this is that I think many people have failed to grasp the obligations that marriage (should) imply - and sex on demand is not what I'm talking about here.
The historical reason for getting married was to bring up children. Despite the fact that I'm been married 8 years and we still haven't had any kids, and despite the fact that I, as noted above, agree with the concept of gay marriage, I think that the production of the next generation should be the main reason for getting hitched. Why? because a marriage that expects to last until its children have flown the nest has to last 20 years or more. Thats a BIG commitment folks. To people who get married aged 21 or so that means that they have to expect to be married for the entire time they have been alive so far and that implied duration is one reason why I want to see marriage harder to enter. People planning on getting married should be making plans for a life together that lasts that long and those plans should include dealing with the bad times as well as the good.
I'm not a practising christian but the Anglican 1662 prayer book - if you ignore the god and fornication references - says pretty much exactly that in the introduction to the marriage service. Finally - and again as the prayer book says - Marriage involves sharing everything and respecting your spouse:
WITH this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow...
Marriage should concentrate on the responsibilities not the rights. If you look at marriage as being a lifelong commitment then to looking after your spouse (and offspring) then maybe you won't jump into marriage so fast.
It seems to me that one way to reduce marriage would be to make that last part literally true. Title to 50% of all assets owned by one party to the marriage would be legally transfered to the other at the marriage and the same would remain so with any new income until death - forget divorce - death, and that doesn't mean death of the partner that means death of the provider. In other words if a man marries a woman then from that day forth she or her estate if she dies first gets 50% of his income. Of course the same would apply in reverse.
Perhaps more subtly one could modify that so that at marriage there would be a legal requirement to create an agreement for division of assets, future income and the custody and support of any children in the event of divorce. In other words you would legally require plans to exit the marriage at the start of the marriage. It might also be worthwhile requiring the couple to put in escrow the money required to pay all legal fees for separation. Then if the couple decide to divorce all they have to do is for either one of them to go the judge (or whomever) and sign the piece of paper and as with a will a kind of probate would occur. The agreement would require both parties to sign at marriage but only one to sign at divorce.
If the default position for a standard heterosexual marriage with no prenuptial contract were that the woman got all the existing assets, 50% of the man's income and an additional 10% for every child then you might see a significant reduction in people getting married and a significantly greater commitment when they did. Such a one-sided standard contract would tend to inspire thought of an alternative nuptial contract that would also be eternally binding and which could not be renegotiated after marriage without some stiff penalty, which is precisely what I would like to see.
I.e. if there were no alternative agreement when Albert married Betty then from that day forward Betty's bank account would get 50% of Albert's salary (and vice versa). If Albert and Betty divorce and Albert wants to remarry he has to do so while surviving on 50% of his salary and 50% of Betty's salary. If Betty has been a stay at home mum then her salary is 0 and so if Albert's second wife (Cathy) is a trophy wife he now has to support his expensive trophy wife on 50% of his salary. And if Cathy wants a divorce then he would then automaticaly be paying another 25% of his salary to Cathy leaving him with 25% of his salary in perpetuity. Do you think that might discourage remarriage by middle aged men to dumb blondes?
Finally it seems to me that a process which required (like buying a timeshare) a mandated cooling off period would be good - I just think that in order to put Las Vegas wedding chapels out of business the waiting period should be required between the engagement and the marriage.
This may all sound rather old fashioned - but it seems to me that it would make divorce easier and marriage harder and it might actually make for greater fidelity in marriage too. In fact since what it does is weight things so that both parties know what is at stake if they split and makes the splitting relatively painless it means that if you think your partner is likely to want to split you have to be nice to them. This is a marriage where you have to trust your partner and inspire trust.
Now what this would not do directly at least is address the segment of the population that procreates without the benefit of marriage and it could well increase the number of children born to single mothers. It would create significant misery amongst people who profit from the business of marriage (or divorce). It would more than likely increase the average tax burden because less people would get married and therefore pool their incomes. There are undoubtedly some other drawbacks that I haven't thought of.
I doubt that it would ever either be agreed to by anyone so this is strictly hypothetical. With respect to the abusive husband thing, one way to help women get a bit more respect and men to be a bit more committed to marriage would be to allow any woman one no-fault no-prosecution spousal murder. Kill one husband, fine. He probably deserved it. Kill a second husband and its you who has the problems lady. OK so its a nuclear option but it would provide considerable incentive for men to behave properly and, possibly more importantly, it would make the man think twice before deciding to get married - if marriage means you are literally entrusting your life to a woman who could suffer from depression, PMS etc etc then you'd better be sure that a) you love her and b) she loves you.
In fact you could probably cut out most rape by extending the concept such that any female may kill any one male with whom she has had sex. Of course if she's gang-raped then the single get out of jail free card isn't going to work, but the chances are fairly high that the gang will rape multiple women so they can share the burden.