Did you realize that one state in the union still requires an actual reason to get a divorce, as opposed to the no-fault divorces practiced everywhere else? That state is liberal, progressive, sophisticated New York. But now that is about to change. Notice how New Yorkers have been getting around the current law so far:
There are certain to be consequences if New York State introduces no-fault divorce, as now seems likely. The divorce rate might climb. Matrimonial battles will focus on bitter issues like support and child custody. The poor will be able to get divorced as easily as the rich. But there is something else. Those who are splitting up can just tell the truth.
Justice Jeffrey S. Sunshine of State Supreme Court in Brooklyn said some of the old law seemed like a throwback to the 19th century and invaded divorce-seeker’s privacy.
For decades, New York State’s divorce system has been built on a foundation of winks and falsehoods. If you wanted to split quickly, you and your spouse had to give one of the limited number of allowable reasons — including adultery, cruelty, imprisonment or abandonment — so there was a tendency to pick one out of a hat.
Pregnant women have insisted they have not had sex in a year, one of the existing grounds; spouses claimed psychological cruelty for getting called fat; and people whose affairs have made Page Six have denied adultery. One legendary ploy involved listing the filing lawyer’s secretary as the partner in adultery (which may even have been true in a few cases).
“What the fault divorce system has done is that it has institutionalized perjury,” said Malcolm S. Taub, a veteran Manhattan matrimonial lawyer. “This play-acting goes on and everybody looks the other way and follows the script.”
On Tuesday, the State Senate approved a bill that would permit divorce without a claim that either side is at fault, and on Wednesday the State Assembly Speaker, Sheldon Silver, said his members were discussing the details of similar legislation. “I support the concept,” Mr. Silver said.
HT to tODD for alerting me to this development. I’ll share our conversation:
As with many Christians, I have frequently lamented the state of marriage in the US, with its high divorce rate. Many Christians typically decry the role of "no-fault" divorce in bringing this on. And I typically assumed that was true. But if this article is right,
I'm not so sure about that anymore. If the divorce rate isn't actually hindered by current NY law, and all it adds is a requirement that people lie (and perjure themselves!) in order to get a divorce, is that actually better than just implementing no-fault divorce? Or is this just an argument made by those who don't see divorce as bad in the first place?
ME: I didn’t realize there was a state that didn’t have no-fault divorce! As Irecall, though, New York has had a lower divorce rate than less “liberal” states. Maybe that’s a reason.
tODD: Apparently New York is the only state left (according to Wikipedia). Fascinating. South Dakota went no-fault in 1985. New York! Who'd'a thunk? I tried to look up divorce rates per state (which data is easily available), but as many people will inevitably point out, those data are misleading, as they count divorces per capita (or, typically, per 1000 people), which tends to miss the point that marriage rates are not consistent across states. I found this document from the CDC: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr57/nvsr57_19.pdf Which would be useful, except (a) you have to calculate the divorce-per-marriage rate yourself by hand, and (b) it's missing the divorce numbers from several states, notably California. Based on that, I whipped up the attached Excel spreadsheet, in which I chose about half the states. Now, I happen to think the Nevada number is bunk, and it likely points out a problem with the methodology -- people who get married in one state don't necessarily live there, especially when it comes to Nevada (while people who get divorced in a state presumably DO live there). Regardless, it is fascinating to note that New York has a respectably low (well, as such) rate with 42% of marriages ending in divorce (though not as low as gay-marriage Massachusetts, which has 39%, almost the same as Utah!). On the other hand, Mississippi's 83% divorce rate is jaw-dropping. I can't find any commonality between the states at either end, though, which is interesting in itself. tODD (later):Sorry, Dr. Veith, but your beloved Oklahoma clocks in at #3 when it comes to divorces per marriage (just under 72%). Oof. Here are the top 10 worst states (that I could calculate): Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Delaware, Washington, Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, and Kentucky And here are the top 10 best states (that I could calculate, not including Nevada for the aforementioned reasons): South Carolina, Utah, Iowa, Massachusetts, South Dakota, DC, New York, Vermont, Tennessee, and Illinois. Honestly, can you see any pattern there? Urban/rural? Conservative/liberal? North/south? I can't make any sort of generalizations from this data.
I would add that divorce rates are usually related to income and social class, with poorer people (like those in Mississippi) getting divorced more often than affluent people (like those in Massachusetts). Still, there is much to puzzle about here. But why should Mississippi have such a high rate while culturally and economically similar Tennessee has such a low rate? Can anyone make sense of this?
Some are calling for doing away with no-fault divorce laws as a way to discourage divorce. Yes, if people will lie, that’s one thing, but I don’t believe the state of New York was actually enforcing its no-fault–or its perjury– laws. Can laws help cut down the number of divorces? What will?