In Search of a Safe Harbor

Marriage is supposed to be the safe harbor for raising children. But when no-fault divorce laws were introduced, the safe harbor was lost because marriage became disposable.

A marriage can now be ended by a unilateral act that disregards the other person.

At the time of its enactment, no-fault divorce was promoted as a “mutual consent” process. According to newspaper coverage at the time, both parties together would be able to approach the courts to terminate their marriage contract without saying why. It would be “mutual” and, hence, done with greater “dignity.”

The goal was to eliminate public testimony about wrongdoing, therefore offering couples a greater zone of privacy, which is the same concept used in legal arguments for abortion.

Merely filing a request to exit the marriage would be sufficient to meet this new law’s requirement. No need to state a reason other than “the marriage is irretrievably broken.” The divorce request would be in the form of a “petition,” which is actually code for “lawsuit,” because in spite of the subterfuge, one spouse would still be suing the other.

Policymakers indulged in rhetoric about how the divorce rate would actually decrease with this change in the law. They suggested that the prospect of reconciliation would be more appealing to couples if accusations were no longer part of the process. Reconciliation services were supposed to be offered by the courts, but these plans were quickly scuttled due to budgetary concerns.

The “good intentions” ushered in with this law-change quickly gave way to the stark reality of divorce-for-the-asking, with no services provided and with judges in the role of marriage exterminators. The judge’s role was to keep the conveyor belt rolling, rubber-stamping the decrees as lawyers served up the families.

The proof that it’s a rubber-stamp process can be verified by simply asking any county clerk: “How many petitions are granted and how many are judicially denied?” (zero).

All cases meet the same fate — “Divorce granted” — and it doesn’t matter whether there’s any viability in the marriage because no one checks for vital signs.

In fact, the conveyor belt had to speed up, in order to accommodate the new cases flowing into the system. The courts turned into divorce mills, churning out cases, with no time or inclination to reflect on how things might work differently.

One of the saddest parts of the story is that marriages — most of which had been blessed in a church — were abandoned to the civil authorities by these very institutions. Pastors or priests were nowhere in sight when the judge lifted the gavel.

The Link Between Abortion and No-Fault Divorce

Roe v. Wade and No-Fault Divorce were contemporaneous events. And, they both held out similar deceptive promises to cover up the truth.

No-fault divorce devalues the one-flesh union in the same way that abortion devalues life. Marriage is disposable, and so is the flesh created from that union. One person can end a marriage and one person can end a pregnancy. Divorce and abortion are both unilateral acts — each one is a rejection of the-one-that-has-no-say.

No-fault divorce and abortion influence each other. No-fault divorce makes the safe harbor much more tenuous, introducing fear into the relationship. Women understand this tenuousness. They know that the “burden” of new life comes with greater risks than it used to.

When news of pregnancy is received in fear, not joy, the future is harder to face. Knowing there’s security in the legal union of marriage is vitally important to reducing fear.

No-fault divorce has cheapened marriage and roiled the safe harbor. It’s no longer as safe to say, “yes.”

Abortion and unprotected marriage work hand in hand. We will be able to reduce the one by protecting the other.

(Judy Parejko is a legal researcher and the author of  Stolen Vows: The Illusion of No-Fault Divorce and the Rise of the American Divorce Industry.)

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage