Family, Marriage, and Parenthood

By Howard Becker; Reuben Hill | Go to book overview

Chapter Twenty-Three
The Scope and Meaning of Divorce

MABEL A. ELLIOTT

IT'S TIME we looked into divorce," was the comment of a sensitive editor of a national magazine as the recent census releases reporting increased divorce rates reached his desk. Looking into divorce, however, consists of more than noting the phenomenal increases and interviewing the most colorful cases of breakup. It is necessary today for the student to look behind divorce to marriage itself for explanations. Several chapters of The Family, Marriage, and Parenthood have been devoted to this task.

There is some evidence that divorce rates are high in this country precisely because marriage is highly esteemed. Take Sweden or France whose divorce laws we shall discuss in more detail later. Their divorce rates have been much lower than ours; yet their laws regulating divorce are much less restrictive. What do you find accompanying the relatively lower divorce rates of the Swedes? You find that the number who marry is very low, that marriages are postponed until the thirties, and that the rates of illegitimate births are high. America has high divorce rates but there is no repudiation of marriage!

The fact that people bother to get divorces before remarrying is a tribute to the institution of marriage. Looking at the matter even more closely we discover that divorced persons of both sexes are more likely, age for age, to marry again than are the single to marry for the first time. There is no rejection of marriage by those who divorce; their remarriage in such large numbers proves that. They know even better than single persons that married life is satisfying and they plan to return to it; it was just that first combination which was unfortunate! Compared with desertions, informal separations, swapping of partners, and births out of wedlock, divorce is at least legal and aboveboard.

When people cease to bother to divorce, marriage and family life will be really threatened. From all reports that day now appears far distant. Having cleared away the notion that divorce is something to fear or condemn, and the idea that disintegration of family life is at hand, perhaps we are ready to examine in some detail the scope and meaning of divorce today.


WAYS OF VIEWING DIVORCE

Divorce may be viewed as a social problem, a legal dissolution of marriage bonds, a personal tragedy, or an evidence of disregard of one of God's holy ordinances. As the final outcome of family disintegration, divorce is merely the process by which legal status is given to a relationship already shattered by unkept pledges, broken faith, bitter tensions, and painful

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