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Is No-Fault Divorce Good for Marriages?

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In the book 'The Case for Marriage', authors Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher documented cases in which adults who are married are better off than single people financially, health-wise and in terms of personal satisfaction. The book also alleges that children of divorce or who live with an unwed parent are more likely to live in poverty and sickness and also to become involved in crime than other kids.

Waite and Gallagher believe that relaxed divorce laws harm marriages because they foster chronic uncertainty in the relationship. Legislators in some states seem to agree with this line of thinking. In Louisiana, a law has been passed to provide for a "covenant marriage" option for couples who want their marriage governed by stricter divorce rules.

So while some insist that loose no-fault divorce laws are to blame for their own insecurities and marriage failures, according to Reason Online, new research has shown that when a divorce is easy to get, better marriages may actually result.

Before no-fault divorce laws were passed in most states, people who wanted to get a divorce either had to have their spouse agree that the marriage was over or prove some deal-breaking wrongdoing on the part of their spouse such as adultery or abuse.

In the 60s and 70s, new no-fault divorce laws were introduced. This made it possible for one party to get a divorce without proving any misdeeds or foul play in the marriage - and without the consent of the other party.

Research proves that no-fault divorce laws did not escalate the divorce rate, at least not permanently. In a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), economist Justin Wolfers of Stanford University found that when California passed its no-fault divorce law in 1970, the divorce rate jumped temporarily, but then fell back to its old level — then continued to decline.

Similar divorce rate patterns were seen in other states after no-fault divorce laws were passed. Wolfers estimates that the chance that a first marriage would break up rose by just a minuscule one-fourth of one percent overall after no-fault divorce laws were passed.

In another NBER paper, Wolfers and fellow economist Betsey Stevenson of the University of Pennsylvania reported that there were specific benefits in states which passed no-fault divorce laws.

According to this study, fewer women committed suicide and fewer were murdered by their husbands or boyfriends after no-fault divorce laws went into effect. Additionally, both men and women suffered less domestic violence in states with relaxed divorce laws.

The benefits seen after divorce law changes were not small or insignificant either. In no-fault divorce states, there was a 10 percent drop in a woman's chance of being murdered by her spouse or boyfriend. The rate of female suicide fell by 20 percent in states that enacted no-fault divorce laws. And with domestic violence, an even more dramatic drop was reported. In states that passed no-fault divorce laws, domestic violence declined between 25 and 50 percent between 1976 and 1985.

In addition to not causing a significant increase in the divorce rates, no-fault divorce laws have benefited and saved the lives of many people.

No-fault divorce laws put an end to much of the power struggles in marriages. When divorce laws dictate that either party, at any time, can get a divorce, there is more incentive to keep each other happy. Additionally, potential abusers now know that abused spouses can exit the situation and the marriage, and this may cause them to think twice before raising their hand.

While no-fault divorce laws were designed to facilitate easier divorces, the fact of the matter is that they have actually strengthened some marriages.


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