An Examination and Evaluation of Recent Changes in Divorce Laws in Five Western Countries: The Critical Role of Values

By Fine, Mark A.; Fine, David R. | Journal of Marriage and Family, May 1994 | Go to article overview

An Examination and Evaluation of Recent Changes in Divorce Laws in Five Western Countries: The Critical Role of Values


Fine, Mark A., Fine, David R., Journal of Marriage and Family


There has been a well-documented increase in the divorce rate in Western countries in the last 30 years, although the rate has been relatively stable in the last decade (Phillips, 1988). Paralleling the increase in the divorce rate have been profound changes in the laws that govern divorce and its aftermath. In this article, in keeping with the spirit of the 1994 International Year of the Family, we examine laws related to divorce in several Western countries, including the United States, France, England and Wales, and Sweden. We also propose that it is difficult to determine the consequences of these legal changes on family life because evaluations of these effects by individuals (including researchers and those who review their work) depend on their positions on several value dimensions.

In addition to providing valuable descriptive information about divorce laws from an international perspective, comparative analyses provide unique insights into the relation between culture and laws pertaining to divorce beyond that provided by an analysis of any single country. Because countries have different cultural traditions and somewhat different laws pertaining to divorce, comparative analyses provide an opportunity to explore how cultural values, and changes in values over time, relate to laws regarding divorce. Thus, we conclude this article with some comments about the complex relation between cultural values and legal change.

Our focus is on Western countries because there is more available information on divorce laws in these countries than in non-Western countries. Because divorce for couples with children, relative to those couples without children, is more complex and has led to greater controversy among family policy specialists, we focus our review on divorce laws as they pertain to couples with children.

Before proceeding to the survey of divorce laws, it is important to draw a distinction between marital breakdown and divorce. Marital breakdown occurs when a couple's marriage has deteriorated to the point that it is no longer viable and does not meet the mutual needs of the spouses. Divorce, by contrast, is the formal termination of the marriage in a court of law. Therefore, marital breakdown is a private experience, whereas divorce is a public one. This distinction is a critical one, because marital breakdown does not necessarily result in divorce (Phillips, 1988). Although marital breakdown occurs in all societies, the manner in which couples choose to formally resolve this breakdown differs both within and across countries.

TRENDS IN LAWS PERTAINING TO DIVORCE IN WESTERN COUNTRIES

There are two primary aspects of law relevant to divorce. First, there are laws that regulate how couples obtain a divorce. Second, there are laws that govern the aftermath of divorce, including such matters as spousal support, child support, and child custody. In this section, we review each of these two aspects with respect to the countries of interest.

LAWS PERTAINING TO OBTAINING A DIVORCE

The modern history of divorce law in the United States and Western Europe arguably began in the 1960s, when almost all of those countries that recognized divorce enacted substantially modified procedures and grounds. Prior to 1960, the United States, England and Wales, and France had divorce laws built around the idea that one spouse was at fault for the marital rift (Glendon, 1989; Phillips, 1988). Of the countries surveyed here, only Sweden had a law before 1960 that allowed divorce without an assertion of fault (Rheinstein, 1971).

The United States. At the outset, it should be noted that family law in general and divorce law in particular are determined at the state level in the United States, primarily because of its federalist roots, which emphasize decentralized states' rights (Resnik, 1991). However, because of "migratory divorce" (i.e., couples traveling to states with less restrictive divorce laws than their own), it is difficult for any one state to have a law that makes divorce more difficult to obtain than in other states. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

An Examination and Evaluation of Recent Changes in Divorce Laws in Five Western Countries: The Critical Role of Values
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.