Thursday, July 16, 2009

Is Divorce Too Easy - Tony Abbott's Proposal

The Divorce - Jan Hendrink van der Laar

Australian Liberal MP, Tony Abbott, has proposed a system whereby couples that are marrying can choose to opt out of the no-fault based divorce that is now in place. Instead, they agree to only allow divorce if someone can be shown to be at fault.

A number of criticisms have been made of his proposal, including the possibility that it will leave people in harmful or meaningless marriages, or that it will lead to a situation where everyone is playing the blame game.

I think these criticisms have merit. Some marriages just are not healthy and the best thing is simply to end it, rather than continuing on with a marriage that may be damaging to a person’s emotions or even physical wellbeing. And I certainly don’t want to see a situation where people are just trying to blame the other partner for their bad marriage. When a marriage ends, particularly when children are involved, it is best to try and forgive the other person, and put the bad things behind you. This would be very difficult to do for people who are trying to show the other person is at fault.

However, divorce is too easy. Way too easy.

I think far too many marriages end when they shouldn’t. Because divorce is too easy, as soon as the first difficult time comes along, it’s simple just to opt for a divorce. Sometimes even friends may suggest a divorce or ask why a couple stays together, when the marriage obviously isn’t working. What could just be a temporary problem ends up being a permanent break. Marriages grow stronger as couples go through difficult times and work through problems. I fear that less and less people will be willing to do that nowadays.

Also, no matter how much a couple may tell themselves they will stay together after they are married, the fact is they know they don’t have to. And there is a difference between making a commitment for life and a commitment for – until we hit our first speed bump and need a divorce. A lifelong commitment requires a lot of thought before making a decision. A short-term commitment doesn’t. And the very relationship is different. How we act and live with someone who we have to be with for the rest of our lives is going to be different to the way we act with someone who we are married to for the moment.

But I say all this as a divorced person. I know how difficult some marriages can be. Not just difficult. Let’s face it. Some marriages can be – well, actually. I’m going to leave it there. Because I don’t like to talk about my marriage. I avoid the subject whenever I can. And I almost left this topic alone, because I knew it would mean thinking about it.

Let’s just put it this way. Some marriages are very bad. To create a situation where people have to stay in those types of marriages is not a good idea.

But it’s hard to know what the solution is. I think there has to be some way of getting out of a marriage, without playing the blame game, dredging up emotions and saying who is at fault. But I also think that divorce should be a lot harder than it now is.

And I don’t think Tony Abbott’s proposal will really help. It does goes back to the blame game, which isn’t nice. As an opt in system, it’s not going to make divorce anymore difficult for the people who are sure they will be together for life and don’t need it, or the ones who don’t want to be tied to someone for life and are not going to sign any contract that ties them down.

However, even though I don’t think Tony Abbott’s idea would work, I don’t think he deserves to be criticised. Divorce is too easy. And something should be done to make it harder for people. I don’t want to live in a world where a marriage contract is easier to get out of than a mortgage repayment. And I think Abbott should be praised for at least trying to find solutions.


  1. Liz,

    This is a really interesting post. Generally I generally agree that divorce is too easy, but sometimes I wonder whether the ease of divorce even has much effect on the increasing rate of divorce.

    In Islamic countries, for example, divorce is extremely easy: All you have to do is say 'I divorce you!' four times and you're legally divorced. But, even with laws like this, divorce is still pretty rare over there.

    I think what may be driving the increase in divorce is how easy it is to raise children as a single parent compared with previous times. Traditionally, I think there was a material incentive for couples to stay together; now welfare and child maintenence laws mean that a single parent isn't going to be struggling just to get food on the table.

    Now, there's no way I'd want to go back to not having decent child maintenance and welfare; my mum was a single mother, so I know that life can be tough even with them. But, maybe it's true that people just aren't very good at relationships, and maybe a lot of the time we only bother to create harmonious relationships because we've got got no other choice?

    Anyway, thanks for taking the time to maintain this blog; it's been really though-provoking so far.


  2. Hi George,

    Your comment raises a good question. Is divorce more common because divorce itself is easier or because life after divorce is easier? I think it's probably a bit of both.

    I think the ease of living life after divorce is not just related to welfare payments, but also the fact that there is a lot more social acceptance of divorce and that women quite often have their own careers and money. They're more independent and less likely to be solely reliant on their husbands as they were in the past.

    Now that's something I wouldn't want to change. Because it would punish those that are divorced. And as a divorced person, I know that sometimes there are very good reasons for a divorce. And quite often people find themselves divorced when it wasn't actually their choice.

    Perhaps social acceptance of divorce may change in time. Unlikely though. So the only thing we have to work with is the divorce laws. Although it does bring up the question how much difference would changing those divorce laws actually make?

    Thanks for the thought provoking comment.




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