Young women in the 1990s were less interested in marriage than men, but today the opposite is true. Yet, it remains true that both heterosexual women and lesbians are twice as likely as their male counterparts to file for divorce.
There are probably several reasons why women want to marry more than men do, but also are more eager to call it quits. That family law provides more incentives for women both to marry and to divorce is prime among them.
Women are all but guaranteed child custody upon divorce. Further, many states have lifetime alimony, and child support in the US and Canada is based on a child’s entitlement to maintain the same pre-divorce standard of living. This often results in the father paying crushing and sometimes impossible child support payments. In effect, a woman’s obligations in marriage end at divorce, but a man’s marriage obligations can be for life even if the marriage was only a short time.
Young men are wise to avoid marriage and fatherhood until family law is reformed.
Marriage reforms that will strengthen families and make marriage more equal for men include:
- Court should be a last resort: Many divorces could be handled through a written agreement created with the help of a mediator, not an attorney. As noted in the documentary Divorce Corp, you don’t go to court to get married, so why go to court to get divorced unless there are more complex legal issues? But often attorneys will make a simple divorce complicated just to bilk people.
- Shared parenting: Presuming equal child custody upon divorce unless the court deems a parent unfit (due to abuse, mental incapacity, etc.). Currently, child custody is granted to the mother in the overwhelming majority of cases while fathers are blamed for failing to advocate for a greater parenting role. But blaming someone who faces systematic discrimination would be unacceptable in any other context. These fathers often lack the time and money to fight the discrimination they face, which makes shared parenting laws imperative.
- Child support should be based on a child’s basic needs rather than an entitlement to the pre-divorce standard of living.
- Paternity fraud: It’s more common than many people think for a woman to name a man as the father of her child when she knows he is not. While I don’t support mandatory DNA testing for every birth because this would be an intrusive government expansion, I do support a man’s right to have a DNA test if he wants one. And if the child isn’t his then he should have no legal or financial responsibility – even if he’s married to the mother, and even if he previously agree he was the father.
- Abolish alimony with an exception for limited transitional alimony (such as six months or a year) for unusual situations. A woman may have married a man with a much higher income than hers, but she is no longer entitled to his resources after the marriage ends. This may sound harsh, but keep in mind that unlike the 1950s women today earn the majority of college degrees. The oft cited stat that women only make 77 cents to a man’s dollar fails to note that women make different career choices. When comparing the same jobs, same hours and years of experience, women make 93 cents to a man’s dollar. Further, women possess 51% of the net wealth in the US, and account for the majority of consumer spending. The notion that women need to be financially dependent on men belongs to a bygone era.
- Protect premarital assets: One should have no access to assets one’s ex-spouse owned before marriage.
Beyond legal reforms, changes in cultural attitudes also are needed:
In a previous post I wrote about a Huffington Post article where a female therapist notes that despite Millennial men being “across the board, respectful, quality, caring, devoted, cherishing, authentic, and supportive guys”, their wives often divorce them simply because the women “just wanted something new”.
Unfortunately, she goes on to discuss how men can better serve women’s needs. And while every married man should think about how he can be a better husband (there’s always room for improvement), I also noted that, “Though politically incorrect and rarely discussed, many women’s sense of entitlement is a significant problem in relationships. And men are all too quick to indulge women instead of setting boundaries”.
That is, the cultural shift we need is for it to be acceptable to also ask what women need to do to be better wives.
Finally, we need to raise awareness about men who are abused by women. Though the myth that domestic violence is something only men do to women has been repeatedly debunked, it is still widely believed.
The truth must be understood if we are to support men speaking out, seeking help – and having services available when they do. Women are more likely than men to initiate domestic violence, and women do so for the same reasons as men – power and control, not patriarchy. And although men’s violence is more severe, the CDC found that men are more than a third of the victims of severe domestic violence. And while 81% of spousal homicide victims are women, this does not mean we should ignore the significant minority who are men.