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    Divorce in the United States Essay

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    Divorce in the United StatesDivorce involves the recognition that a marriage has hopelessly failedand that at least one of the partners has no desire to continue the maritalrelationship. Divorce legally dissolves a marriage, and permits the partners toremarry if they choose.

    Divorce differs from an annulment, which declares amarriage invalid because of some flaw in the contract. The early American settlers brought with them three different views ondivorce: 1) the Roman Catholic view that marriage was a sacrament and thatthere could be no divorce; 2) the English view that divorce was a legislativematter; and 3) the Protestant view that marriage and divorce were secularmatters to be handled by the civil authorities. The Constitution of the United States did nothing to limit the rights ofthe states to enact their own laws governing marriage and divorce. Despiteseveral efforts to amend the Constitution, to allow Congress to pass federallegislation on divorce, to this day the states retain separate laws.

    Becausedivorce laws vary from state to state, the “migratory divorce” developed:couples would move temporarily to a state where divorce was easier to obtainthan at home. For example, a couple living in New York State, where until 1967the only grounds for divorce was adultery, would establish residence in Nevada — a procedure that took only 6 weeks — and file for divorce on grounds ofmental cruelty. Popular attitudes toward divorce changed as the United States becamemore urbanized and less religious. The increasing acceptance of divorce wasreflected in court interpretations of existing laws and in new legislationenacted by the states. Two tendencies merged, making possible the establishmentof new and easier grounds for divorce.

    The focus of state divorce, whichpreviously concerned itself with specifying legal grounds for divorce, shiftedto criteria concerning the breakdown of the marital relationship. This could beseen in conditions that allowed divorce for alcoholism, drug addiction, ornonsupport. Another tendency permitted divorce if both parties gave ofvoluntarily separating and living apart for a specified period of time. Forexample, in 1967, New York allowed divorce for couples who had been legallyseparated for 2 years, eliminating the search for a guilty party. In 1969,California permitted divorce when “irreconcilable differences” arose, thusbecoming the first state with a “no-fault” divorce law. Nearly all the otherstates soon added no-fault divorce options to their existing laws.

    Published statistics show that the United States has the highest divorcerate in the world, and in recent decades it has held fairly steady. In 1975 therate was 4. 9 per 1,000 people (over twice that of Great Britain) and in 1990 itwas 4. 7 per 1,000. It is sometimes said that in the United States, for everyfour marriages, a divorce occurs. Divorce statistics, however, tend to bemisleading.

    In 1990 about 2. 4 million marriages took place in the United Statesand about 1. 2 million divorces — about one divorce occurred for every twomarriages. It would be equally true, however, to say that 80 percent of allmarried people are still in their first marriage. Statisticians speak of the “crude” divorce rate — the number ofdivorces per 1,000 population. The crude divorce rate of 4.

    7 in 1990 in theUnited States may be compared with a crude marriage rate of 9. 7 (9. 7 marriagesper 1,000 population). An even better measure is the number of marriages ordivorces per 1,000 “population at risk,” that is, the total number of personswho are in fact married at the time. In the United States in 1987, there were123 divorced persons for every 1,000 married persons; in other terms, thedivorced portion equaled about 12 percent of the married portion of thepopulation. When marriage and divorce rates in several countries several factorsmust be taken into account: the proportion of the population that is of marryingage, the proportion that marry, and the age at marriage.

    Because people nowlive longer and marry earlier, the size of the population “at risk” increases. Only in Japan is the married proportion of the population as high as it is inthe United States. Moreover, Americans who get divorced are likely to remarry. In the mid-1980’s approximately 50% of divorced U. S. women remarried.

    Sixtyyears earlier, two out of three divorced persons did not remarry. If thedivorce rate has risen noticeably, so has the marriage rate. Anthropologists report that many societies have even higher divorcerates than that of the United States. For example, Nigeria would have a divorcerate approaching 100 percent if some married people did not die young. Thebelief that high divorce rates reduce social organization has not been proved. The social effects of divorce depend on what happens to families that experienceit and on the arrangements society makes for them.

    Divorce can be a devastating experience. While the divorce is inprogress, and for some time afterward, both parties are likely to feelpersonally rejected, cheated in the economic arrangements, misrepresentedlegally, bitter about the co-parental arrangements, lonely because they havelost friends, and afraid of living alone. In the United States, the mother traditionally has been supportedeconomically by the father, and granted custody of the children unless she isfound unfit by the courts. The father is usually awarded more materialpossessions and awarded the right to visit the children regularly. Prolongedand bitter struggles for legal custody have often scarred both parents andchildren. In extreme cases, the parent losing a custody conflict, or upsetabout material divisions may even resort to burglary or kidnapping his or herown children.

    In recent decades, however, other patterns of child custody and economicarrangement have emerged alongside the old. Some mothers have voluntarilyrelinquished custody in order to pursue other goals, or because they believe thechildren may fare better with the father. Joint custody has also become morecommon, with parents sharing responsibility for the raising of their children,even after remarriage. Fair divisions of material possessions are rising asmore women enter the work force and consequently contribute equally. Divorce has become an ingrained part of American society — almostsimilar to marriage.

    Previously, I believed that married couples with childrenshould avoid divorce for the sake of their children. However, after compilingdata for this report and discussing divorce with others, I have determined thatdissatisfied couples — who avoid divorce — often take their anger out on theirchildren. This practice often harms the child emotionally — or in some cases — physically. Although my parents are not divorced, I have become acquaintedwith many people whose parents are divorced. Through discussions, I havedetermined that most of these people felt relieved when their parents finallygot divorced — because it ended the constant arguing and violence at home.

    BibliographyAlbrecht, Stan L. , et al. , Divorce and Remarriage (1983);AUTHOR:Albrecht, Stan L. TITLE:Divorce and remarriage : problems, adaptations, andadjustments / Stan L. Albrecht, Howard M.

    Bahr, and Kristen L. Goodman. PUBL. :Westport, Conn.

    : Greenwood Press,FORMAT:xiii, 211 p. ; 25 cm. DATE:1983Belli, M. , and Kranzler, Divorcing (1988);AUTHOR:Belli, Melvin M.

    , 1907-TITLE:Divorcing / by Melvin Belli and Mel Krantzler. PUBL. :New York : St. Martin’s Press,FORMAT:xii, 434 p. ; 23. 5 cm.

    DATE:1988Clapp, Genevieve, Divorce and New Beginnings (1992);AUTHOR:Clapp, Genevieve. TITLE:Divorce and new beginnings : an authoritative guide torecovery and growth, solo parenting, and stepfamilies /Genevieve Clapp. PUBL. :New York : Wiley,FORMAT:xv, 377 p.

    ; 23 cm. DATE: 1992Myers, M. F. , Men and Divorce (1989);AUTHOR:Myers, Michael F. TITLE:Men and divorce / Michael F.

    Myers. PUBL. :New York : Guilford Press,FORMAT:xv, 286 p. ; 24 cm. DATE:1989Splinter, John P.

    , The Complete Divorce Recovery Handbook (1992);AUTHOR:Splinter, John P. TITLE:The complete divorce recovery handbook : grief, stress,guilt, children, co-dependence, self-esteem, dating, remarriage/John P. Splinter. PUBL.

    :Grand Rapids, Mich. : Zondervan,FORMAT:p. cm. DATE:1992Walzac, Yvette, and Burns, Sheila, Children and Divorce (1984).

    AUTHOR:Teyber, Edward. TITLE:Helping children cope with divorce / Edward Teyber. EDITION:1st pbk. ed. PUBL.

    :New York : Lexington Books ; Toronto : Maxwell MacmillanCanada;New York : Maxwell Macmillan International,FORMAT:ix, 221 p. ; 24 cm.DATE:1994Social Issues

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