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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Marriage with a side of Divorce

A friend recently sent me an article/interview from Norway in which Jim Sheehan, a family therapist, talks about causes of divorce in Norway. Below is a link to the article which, unless you speak the language, will need to be translated.

The article got me to thinking about divorce rates in the U.S. which I've understood to be around 50%, so I did a little research:

The divorce rate in America for first marriage, vs second or third marriage:
50% percent of first marriages, 67% of second and 74% of third marriages end in divorce, according to Jennifer Baker of the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology in Springfield, Missouri.

According to enrichment journal on the divorce rate in America:
The divorce rate in America for first marriage is 41%
The divorce rate in America for second marriage is 60%
The divorce rate in America for third marriage is 73%

Divorce Reform site
Per capita divorce rates 1990-2002:
1991, 0.47%
1992, 0.48%
1993, 0.46%
1994, 0.46%
1995, 0.46%
1995, 0.43%
1997, 0.43%,
1998, 0.42%,
1999, 0.41%,
2000, 0.41%,
2001, 0.40%,
2002, 0.38%

Admittedly those numbers aren't "golden" by any means. There is a lot of disagreement over how the numbers are even calculated. For example: Should the annual number of divorces be compared to annual number of marriages, or to all existing marriages. With two people getting a divorce does that count as one divorce, or two?

I don't really want to focus on the numbers and debate calculations. Most of the statistics I saw indicated that although calculations differ, the general feeling is that the divorce rate is somewhere between 40%-50% and if it isn't at that level now, it will be very soon. So for purposes of this article I'm going to assume a divorce rate between 40%-50%.

What I'm thinking about is the concept of legal marriage. (I'm thinking I'll dive deeper into causes in another article).

Let's say you are in charge of making rules. If you make a rule is made that is broken by 40-50% of the people governed by the rule, is the rule valid? With a debatable fifty percent divorce rate, does current marriage law make sense? Personally I make rules for myself and my kids and when a rule is being continuously broken I know that either the rule is invalid or something else needs to change to allow the rule to be valid and unbroken.

In the case of legal marriage and divorce I don't see the environment changing much. There are those who would argue the problem isn't the law, it is society. That if people are getting divorced at such a high rate it is due to the failure of family as a priority, or something similar. I agree, but for a slightly different reason. I think society has changed. In my opinion, changing the mentality behind marriage and divorce is unlikely therefore it is the rule that must change. Of course, overcoming the social paradigm of such a concept so far has proven impossible. There is also the challenge that much of our legal system, insurance industry, and on and on are constructed around the concept of a two person legal marriage. And a divorce is simply a way to extract yourself from that system by letting the entities using the system know what you have done in a formal manner.

Nonetheless, things don't seem to be working. Why not open legal marriage to include multiple partners? Erase the paradigm created by society from birth of; marriage, fidelity, and monogamy. Maybe if legal marriage is changed people will quit getting divorces because they won't fear being judged by peers and society based on an outdated standard. In other words, if the rule isn't working change the rule and you may also enjoy a change of perception that was previously supported by the rule despite common sense.

But is that going to happen? Probably not unless the government can figure out a way to make it pay better. Let's face facts. The government is collecting a fee for every marriage. The divorce lawyers and government are collecting court costs etc. for every divorce. The construct is making them money and we all know the government doesn't like losing a revenue stream. Interestingly enough, additional fees from the inclusion of more marriage types would likely rise. It would be, theoretically, revenue from divorces that would decline if fewer took place.

So, the question of the day is this; do you believe the current marriage and divorce laws are still valid? Should they be changed? Why, or why not?

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