There is a misconception that once a couple enters the divorce process they believe there is no hope for resolving their problems and they are thus not interested in reconciliation counselling, but research has shown that four of five marriages (80%) end unilaterally with one spouse having divorce imposed upon them.1 But this comes as no shock to you since it describes your situations. Though some of your spouses have not filed for divorce and eventually you may be the one to file, it is your spouse who has chosen to leave. No fault divorce empowers the party who seeks a divorce and disempowers the party who wishes to remain married; the latter party has zero legal leverage to stop a divorce.
One spouse cannot stop a no fault divorce. Objecting to the other spouse’s request for divorce is itself an irreconcilable difference that would justify the divorce.
That’s what I learned after Sweetheart filed; I had no power. Oh it is true that there are irreconcilable differences—that is true of all marriages. For instance, I’m female and he’s male, but the court probably won’t allow us to divorce because I’ve got an innie and he has an outie. We have different tastes in food and he doesn’t appreciate purple nearly as much as I do—though he still claims it is his favourite color. But to say that our differences were irreconcilable because I didn’t want a divorce and he did is absurd. A difference or disagreement is not evidence a relationship is beyond the possibility of reconciliation. I have proven that differences are reconcilable and if it was possible for my marriage, it may be for many more.
What does it matter if 80% of divorce filings are unilateral; one person still wants a divorce.
Twenty-five percent of individuals (33% of men and 20% of women) going through divorce believe in the possibility of reconciliation. Eleven percent of couples both believe in the possibility of reconciliation and in 33% of couples one partner believes in it.
Thirty percent of individuals (33% of men and 25% of women) are willing to consider reconciliation assistance. Ten percent of couples both how interest and in 33% of couples one partner is interested. All together in ~45% of couples one or both partners believes the marriage can be reconciled and are interested in reconciliation assistance.2 Sadly many marriage counsellors believe that once a couple has filed, they are set on divorce and thus counsellors lack the skills or motivation to promote reconciliation since they think it is too late.
People think that divorce is the solution to their problems. They think it will reduce tension and conflict. Divorce does not decrease conflict or anger, rather it destroys relationships. No, I’m not talking about families and the destruction caused by divorce. Divorce frequently causes a degeneration to open conflict where previously conflict may have been low and it maintains open conflict where it was already high.3 Angry divorces lead to angry post divorce relationships. Divorce makes situations worse, not better.
There are several websites promoting divorce reform and providing research and statistical data. I encourage you to visit these sites, learn about the legislation and where it will help, register on the sites and find out how you can support the cause.
The Coalition for Divorce Reform is a new site started by Chris Gersten, the former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Administration for Children and Families, Department of Health and Human Services. The coalition is committed to educating the public regarding the negative impact of divorce, reducing unnecessary divorces, promoting healthy marriages and legislative changes. In addition, the coalition wants to see that protections for victims of domestic violence are maintained or improved within new legislation.
The Coalition’s present legislative agenda is The Parental Divorce Reduction Act. The purpose is to reduce unnecessary divorce and family court litigation while simultaneously educating parents about the impact of divorce on children. It proposes to do this by requiring couples participate in 4 to 8 hours of in-person “divorce reduction education” classes which not only teach about the impact of divorce on both children and adults, but also teaches relationship skills meant to strengthen marriages. This coursework is to be followed by an 8 month waiting period before filing for divorce. This act applies only to couples with minor children.
- Physical Abuse
- Abandoned for 18+ months
- Incarceration lasting 5+ years
- Addicts refusing treatment
For more information visit The Coalition for Divorce Reform’s in depth review: The Parental Divorce Reduction Act
What else can we do? What other changes will help to reduce unnecessary divorce? Though it has only been law for 40 years, it seems to me that many feel entitled to no-fault divorce and that the government should get out of their personal business. That brings the question: Is marriage a private exchange between a couple or is it a public institution?
Little girls still dream of fairy-tale weddings, but cohabitation has become an accepted alternative to marriage. If you don’t want the government in your business, cohabitation seems like an alternative. Marriage requires that there be a legal ceremony with witnesses; it seems to me that makes it a public institution. Marriage creates a comingling of finances, property, kinship rights for medical emergencies and rights of inheritance that are not automatic for couples who are cohabiting.
So within the institution of marriage what might help reduce unnecessary divorce? I’m just going to brainstorm a bit and anyone who has something to add please post in the comments.
- Mandatory Premarital Counselling
Tax breaks/license fee waivers for couples who receive premarital counselling
- Mandatory Marriage & Family Coursework for High School Graduation
- Convert Unilateral No-Fault to Mutual Consent
- Shared Custody
Women initiate 67% of divorces. They are confident in doing this because they feel certain they will be awarded physical custody of the children. Divorce rates decrease when shared parenting is the law.4
- Mandatory Reconciliation Counselling
Counselors need training in promoting reconciliation rather than neutrality, though they also must be accepting of divorce.
- Pre-Filing or Pre-Decree Waiting Periods
- Divorce Impact Education (for parents with minor children)
Or for all couples, but gradual change may be easier to accept.
- Post Decree Waiting Periods
What if both partners change their mind soon after a divorce is final?
Additional Divorce Reform Websites
Divorce Statistics & Studies Blog
Americans for Divorce Reform
Divorce Preventions Legislation
Marriage & Family Courts
Please visit The Coalition for Divorce Reform and learn what you can do to help.
- Furstenberg, Frank and Andrew Cherlin, Divided Families. Cambridge, MA:Harvard University Press, 1991, p. 22.
- Doherty, William J., Brian J. Willoughby and Bruce Peterson. “Interest In Marital Reconciliation Among Divorcing Parents.” Family Court Review, 49.2, (2011): 313–321.
- Ahrons, Constance. The Good Divorce: Keeping Your Family Together When Your Marriage Comes Apart. New York: Harper Collins Publications, 1994, 52-59.
- Brinig, Margaret and Douglas Allen, “These Boots Are Made for Walking: Why Most Divorce Filers Are Women.” American Economics and Law Review. 2.1 (2000): 126-127, 129, 158.