Save Marriage: Encourage Cohabitation!

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Over at Cato Unbound, the always interesting Stephanie Coontz has an essay on "The Future of Marriage." I agree with everything she says, but Coontz is especially strong on the lack of correlation between "family values" and, well, the strength of families:

A recent study by Paul Amato et al. found that the chance of divorce recedes with each year that a woman postpones marriage, with the least divorce-prone marriages being those where the couples got married at age 35 or higher. Educated and high-earning women are now less likely to divorce than other women. When a wife takes a job today, it works to stabilize the marriage. Couples who share housework and productive work have more stable marriages than couples who do not, according to sociologist Lynn Prince Cooke. And the Amato study found that husbands and wives who hold egalitarian views about gender have higher marital quality and fewer marital problems than couples who cling to more traditional views.

So there is no reason to give up on building successful marriages — but we won't do it by giving people outdated advice about gender roles. We may be able to bring the divorce rate down a little further — but since one method of doing that is to get more people to delay marriage, this will probably lead to more cohabitation.

Much ink has been spilled warning women of the dangers of cohabitation (see: milk/cow metaphor), but it seems that its role in delaying marriage may be potentially beneficial from a marriage-maximizing perspective. Funny how you never hear anything like this from The Independent Women's Forum.

Elsewhere in Reason: Julian Sanchez on Coontz.

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  1. I call my egalitarian libertarian cohabitant my Ball & Chain of Freedom.

  2. And I call my egalitarian libertarian cohabitant “The Guy Who Opens Jars For Me.”

    Much ink has been spilled warning women of the dangers of cohabitation (see: milk/cow metaphor)

    In all seriousness, I always found that hellishly depressing whenever a woman said it. Have you so little sense of self-worth that you think the only reason a man might be interested in you is for sex, and as soon as he gets it he’ll leave? Well, then, start associating with a better class of man, for Chrissake. Or develop a personality. Or something.

  3. The Independent Women’s Forum…lets not forget that this was the organization that sent a contingent of people over to Iraq to teach Iraqi women about democracy…you can’t parody this stuff…

  4. As one who has lived with someone before marriage 2X, IMHO the second relationship was stronger because we knew and accepted each other and had no unrealistic expectations, unlike the first marriage.

    /Maturity is important too.
    //No children from the second marriage.
    ///Widower +3 years, now living with another good woman for 1 year.

  5. I say that statistic is misleading. Obviously the longer a marriage goes the more likely it is headed for divorce. Marriages that start when people are young are longer than marriages that start when people are older. Also divorce is a more enticing prospect for younger people (especially women) who have time to find another proper mate.

    Not to say that it doesn’t make sense that marriages started later are more likely to last (when both parties are older, more mature, and have a better sense of themselves and what they want from a relationship) but the variables listed above have not been properly accounted for.

  6. Why not postpone marriage until you’re 80? By that time, you will have picked out the exact person with whom you wish to spend the rest of your life, and in any case the rest of your life won’t be all that long in comparison to those suckers who marry in their 20s. The divorce rate would plummet down to the vanishing point! Problem solved!

    As the post specifies, postponing marriage doesn’t preclude cohabitation outside of marriage. So you can move in with a lover or series of lovers, have children by them, break up with them, all the way into your 80s, and this won’t be reflected in the divorce statistics at all!

    Of course, with divorce down to almost nothing, the associated pathologies will disappear, as well. We will no longer have to worry about the children of divorce – even assuming we have the technology to allow 80-year-olds to have children, these kids won’t grow up with a divorced parent. Of course, the children born to those (often unstable) premarital cohabitation relationships may have some problems, but divorce won’t be to blame.

    We will have abolished the pathologies associated with divorce by a simple definitional change! No hard work required!

    Anyway, if we’re worried about the effect on children, why have children at all? We could always imitate the Japanese and have fewer and fewer children, until the birth rate falls below replacement levels.

    In a few generations, the problem will no longer affect our descendants, because we’ll have no descendants. The less enlightened sections of the population will have descendants, but that will be *their* problem.

  7. I think you’ve got a correlation=cause problem here. It’s not clear that someone who marries foolishly in youth will marry wisely if they put it off a few years.

    I’m also skeptical of this claim “Couples who share housework and productive work have more stable marriages than couples who do not”. I do believe that arrangements which favor one spouse while placing a greater burden on the other are likely to fail. However, an equitable division of labor strikes me as desirable and stabilizing.

  8. I just wanted to add that Massachuetts, home of gay marriage and Gay-Straight Alliances, has the lowest divorce rate in the country.

  9. Great article, thanks for pointing to it.

    My fav line “New groups, such as gays and lesbians, are now demanding access to marriage – a demand that many pro-marriage advocates oddly interpret as an attack on the institution.”

    But I loved the last paragraph too:

    “The right research and policy question today is not “what kind of family do we wish people lived in?” Instead, we must ask “what do we know about how to help every family build on its strengths, minimize its weaknesses, and raise children more successfully?” Much recent hysteria to the contrary, we know a lot about how to do that. We should devote more of our energies to getting that research out and less to fantasizing about a return to a mythical Golden Age of marriage of the past.”

    Describes two forms of being in others peoples business, sure enough, but put like that you realize the traditionalists/conservatives is basically how can we get you to live like we want you to vs. how can we make ourselves as a society stronger. If you have to invlovle yourself in someone else’s business, which makes me suspicious enough, it better not be to tell me that you don’t like my freedom.

  10. All those non-threatening vaguely-sedate folks on the eHarmony ads sure look happy. I wonder what their secret is…

  11. Jeff P,

    Cash payments?

  12. I’ve never really understood the hysteria associated with divorce rates. You only live once, and if you’re not happy in your current marriage, get the hell out and find someone else.

    As for the lower divorce rate among those who wait to get married, is it possibly just a matter of definition? If you cohabitate at 19 and it doesn’t work out, you just “break up”. If you get married at 19 and it doesn’t work out, you get “divorced” and pick up all the baggage that implies.

  13. I just wanted to add that Massachuetts, home of gay marriage and Gay-Straight Alliances, has the lowest divorce rate in the country.

    I’d bet thats because of the large number of Catholics.

  14. Even though the cohabitation-makes-strong-marriages thing makes sense (“try it before you buy it”–for BOTH genders!) I thought the data went the other way.

    http://marriage.rutgers.edu/

  15. Man, whatever happened to keeping her pregnant, unemployed, and uneducated? What nonsense, freedom, intelligence and respect can’t make a dinner worth a damn.

    Besides, the Good Book clearly states a woman’s place. All our freedoms are from God and we don’t want to anger Him with sin.

    The G*ddamn cosmos are taking over reason!

    /paleo

  16. Johnny Clarke,

    hint: it has something to do with children.

  17. “I’ve never really understood the hysteria associated with divorce rates. You only live once, and if you’re not happy in your current marriage, get the hell out and find someone else.”

    I agree if you do not have children, but divorce really can screw up kids, so I don’t think we can always afford to think only of ourselves…I realize that these are Libertarians here but still.

  18. I just wanted to add that Massachuetts, home of gay marriage and Gay-Straight Alliances, has the lowest divorce rate in the country.

    That settles it. I’m voting Romney in 2008!

  19. Jeff P: desperation

  20. To bad there’s nothing to support the conclusion in the article. One can’t cite a hundred factors that have changed and then conclude that co-habitation (just one of those factors) actually benefits marriage. But hey, why use reason at reason!

    The only way to get a handle on that would be to try and do some comparison of the marriage success rates of those who co-habitate and those who don’t. My understanding (though I have never seen the studies personally) is that those who co-habitated had higher divorce rates than those who don’t.

    I would bet that age is a chief factor here.

    So do us a favor reason and use your reason when posting things like this. It doesn’t help dissuade people that libertarians are just crotchedy ideologues when you don’t.

  21. YGBJC,

    “You only live once, and if you’re not happy in your current marriage, get the hell out and find someone else.”

    A law firm put it more concisely in a now-famous billboard ad: “Life’s short – get a divorce!”

    http://abcnews.go.com/TheLaw/Story?id=3147979&page=1

    Of course, spokespersons for the divorce bar are against this ad, apparently because it states their philosophy too bluntly and honestly to satisfy public-relations requirements.

    “As for the lower divorce rate among those who wait to get married, is it possibly just a matter of definition? If you cohabitate at 19 and it doesn’t work out, you just “break up”. If you get married at 19 and it doesn’t work out, you get “divorced” and pick up all the baggage that implies.”

    Ah, YGBJC, your kind of logic will spoil everybody’s fun! With carping critics like you messing things up, how will people like Coontz be able to manipulate statistics in order to score cheap debating points against those awful fundamentalists?

  22. But hey, why use reason at reason!

    DRINK!

    So do us a favor reason and use your reason when posting things like this.

    Two triggers in one comment? Now you’re just being silly.

  23. Confused,

    All of this is going to be difficult to sort out from correlation/causation confusion (including my kinda sorta hypothesis above) but it’s worth considering that the kind of people likely to cohabit are the kind of people likely to turn to divorce when a marriage becomes corrosive.

    People do mature as they age, though, and if it’s true that the option of cohabiting encourages people to wait longer before forging legally binding agreements, cohabitation seems potentially beneficial.

  24. I’d bet thats because of the large number of Catholics.

    Or the inane child custody laws that almost always favor the woman and bankrupt the man. 30% of gross is the figure I’ve heard.

  25. James,

    If the kids are what is really worrying you, than perhaps the way to help is not worrying about divorce, too many folks demand freedom and autonomy to get rid of that. Maybe a better tack would be to reform the religious laws that prevent marriage from being viewed as a contract. Right now kids are are not viewed in the traditional, which would be unwilling third parties affected by the contract ending. Changing the view, would give them status, and acknowledge their actually place in the contract, rather than our present tradition which tends to use traditional religious views making them more into property.

    Also, is a child really better off in a bad marriage than a good divorce.

    The stats I’ve read on that are all over the place.

    Still put me in favor of peoples autonomy versus some autocratic traditionalism.

    I have a hard time believing that pols or religious leaders are better at choosing for people then they are themselves.

  26. Ah yes, think about the children…

    My parents divored while I was a teen and I was damned glad they did. Does anyone here truly think kids want to grow up in a “traditional” environment where they’re constantly treading a minefield of anger, hate, fights and long silences?
    BTW, my parents get along fine now and actually go on vacations together. They just can’t live in the same house.

  27. Maybe a better tack would be to reform the religious laws that prevent marriage from being viewed as a contract.

    Ha! If only marriage could be viewed as a contract. In specific, it would be nice of those who breach their marital commitments were required to make the victim of the breach whole, as they would if they were breaching a non-marital contract, rather than given the assistance of the law to impoverish the other party as at present.

  28. Warren,

    I think you’ve got a correlation=cause problem here. It’s not clear that someone who marries foolishly in youth will marry wisely if they put it off a few years.

    Many probably won’t. However, insofar as some people become wiser in their interpersonal dealings as they get older (and that has certainly been the case in my experience), it seems likely that some will — which accounts for a statistical improvement, does it not?

  29. I never understood why marriage isn’t handled as a contract between 2 parties. Great point Lawrence!

  30. “. . . it’s worth considering that the kind of people likely to cohabit are the kind of people likely to turn to divorce when a marriage becomes corrosive.

    “People do mature as they age, though, and if it’s true that the option of cohabiting encourages people to wait longer before forging legally binding agreements, cohabitation seems potentially beneficial.”

    The fact of cohabitation triggers legal obligations in many (most?) states – for instance, equitable division of the cohabitants’ assets upon breakup.

    In *all* states, so far as I know, having children triggers legal obligations regardless of whether the parents are married.

    Are these laws wrong? Should cohabitants and ex-cohabitants, even where children are involved, have *no* legal obligations stemming from that cohabitation? Should they have obligations only if there’s been a marriage at some point in the process?

  31. I agree if you do not have children, but divorce really can screw up kids, so I don’t think we can always afford to think only of ourselves…I realize that these are Libertarians here but still.

    Finally, SOMEBODY agrees with me.

  32. Seamus and Bingo,

    I third those sentiments!

    Treating a violation of one’s marital obligations as a breach of contract, comparable to the breach of a commercial contract, would actually be an *improvement* over the current system.

    Imagine two business partners, one of whom scrupulously observes all her contractual obligations and the other of whom flagrantly violates them. Imagine the legislature and the courts saying, “let’s not point fingers and debate who’s ‘at fault’ [scare quotes] in this business relationship. Let’s work out a nonjudgmental distribution of the assets.”

  33. divorce really can screw up kids, so I don’t think we can always afford to think only of ourselves

    Staying in an abusive or unhappy marriage can really screw up kids. I wish those anti-divorce marriage, marriage uber alles folks would JUST FOR ONCE stop thinking only of themselves and their delicate religious sensibilities, and for God’s sake THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!!

  34. First of all, congrats to Cato Unbound for getting Coontz involved. Her work is terrific.

    If you’re interested in a libertarian take on the family along the lines of Coontz’s work here, you might find some recent work of mine of interest (particularly you cosmoid types):

    Horwitz working papers

    The last two will be of particular interest.

    You might also see my piece called “Capitalism and the Family” in a recent issue of The Freeman.

    I’m also working on a book-length project on classical liberalism and the family.

  35. To continue the business metaphor –

    “Some say that the employees suffer because the business collapsed due to this quarrel between the partners. But wouldn’t it have been much worse for the employees to stay on the job, knowing that their employers hated each other?”

  36. As long as we’re recommending stuff on the Internet, here’s the Web version of G. K. Chesterton’s “Superstition of Divorce:”

    http://www.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~mward/gkc/books/divorce.txt

  37. Mad Max,

    Have you ever worked for a company that crashes down around your ears?

    I’m a “child of divorce”, but working for a company that self destructed while I was there was indeed, more painful. But, I had a great extended family at both times, so my mileage may differ.

    I’d wished I’d had the good sense to get out of the company when I saw the warning signs (the family that owned it screaming at each other.)

  38. I think that marriage is just a much more difficult proposition in the modern age. For most of human history, people didn’t travel or communicate much or meet many or any people outside of the area in which they were born. You were given a limited selection of mates in your general area and you married young. People also died young. So the marriages didn’t last that long before one party died, usually the wife in child birth. It was not unusual for a long lived man to outlive two or more wives. In addition, life was harder so once you hit about 40 or so or even younger in some cases, you were not particularly attractive to the other sex anyway. If you are 45 year old farmer beaten down by a lifetime of hard work who never meets anyone outside of your immediate small community, the opportunities to cheat on your wife or leave your wife are pretty small.

    Contrast that to what we have today. People live much longer, so marraiges can absent divorce last longer. People meet other people from all over the world. They stay physically attractive into their 50s. In that environment, til death do us part is a lot longer and a lot harder to uphold than it once was.

  39. Besides, the Good Book clearly states a woman’s place. All our freedoms are from God and we don’t want to anger Him with sin.

    There are two books in the Bible about and named after a woman, Ruth and Esther. In each story the heroine slept with the man before he decided to marry her.

  40. Mad Max,

    Wouldn’t it be better for the company to come under new management and actually prosper? Or perhaps disband and let the employees find another job where there is more managerial stability?

    It’s never best to be ignorant (at least for the educated who know not to panic). Let the truth be known and make decisions from there. There’s no use in hiding.

  41. John’s points about staying married longer with longer life expectancies is well taken. However, it’s also the case that we “need” marriage more at the end of our lives than at the beginning of adulthood in the modern era. It’s pretty easy to survive as a single person today – and certainly easier than when marriage and family were the way one earned one’s income (e.g. farm families).

    But post-retirement, who wants to be alone? And who wants to deal with medical issues alone?

    I would predict we will see two related trends:

    1. Continued later starting points of marriage, esp. as people want few children and repro technology makes it possible to bear kids later, which has the effect of reducing the total number of years couples are married, perhaps making it more likely that marriages will stay happy in people’s older age.

    2. More serial marriages, where people are married to one person for the child-raising parts of their lives then perhaps divorce and remarry for the later parts of their lives. What’s interesting about this is that divorce might well be viewed not as an unplanned-for failure, but a planned for exhaustion of the benefits of that specific marriage.

    It might well be the case that humans cannot stay married to the same person for 50 or 60 or 70 years, as we would if we married in our 20s and lived til our 90s. We might well be pushing hard against some deep evolutionary forces in doing so. Both 1 and 2 preserve marriage and avoid the worst aspects of divorce but also enable us not to have to swim so hard against the evolutionary current.

  42. Lawrence,

    I acknowledge that my business metaphor about sticking together for the sake of the employees was exaggerated – you can choose your employer, as opposed to your parents, so you have more options where employers are concerned.

    I *do* insist on an explanation for why marriage can’t have *at least* the same protection of a commercial contract.

    Larry A,

    In the book of Esther, the heathen king divorced his wife for the good libertarian reason that she was a prude – she wouldn’t strip for the entertainment of the king’s friends. So naturally the king held the equivalent of a beauty pageant to pick a new wife, and Esther won. The Bible wasn’t recommending this kind of behavior, but was explaining the sequence of historical events which put Esther in the position of being able to save the Jews from extermination at the hands of Haman, the king’s minister. To the extent the book of Esther winked at divorce, it was reflecting the law of Moses, which Christ specifically abolished on this point (Matthew 5:31-32).

    In Ruth, the title character did indeed *sleep* with the hero – that is, he was asleep, and she went to sleep at his feet.

  43. extra comment on Esther: Some Talmudists seem to think the prudish queen got what was coming to her, because she was a shiksa and anyway she disobeyed her husband. Some Christian commentators think the divorce in Esther is typological – symbolizing God rejecting those who are disloyal to Him and choosing those who are more loyal.

  44. Steve Horwitz,

    As our lives get longer and the quality of our lives increases, I think it is inevitable that marriage becomes more like a contract or our mores about marriage become looser. I don’t think that I will live forever, but I think it is entirely possible that I or at the latest the next generation could be vigourous into our 90s or maybe 100s. I think over time societal mores will adjust to our longer lifespans. If people are vigourous longer, then they can have kids later. Maybe eventually, you retire at 65 to settle down and raise a family.

  45. Also, is a child really better off in a bad marriage than a good divorce.

    Personal experiece indictes “not only no, but hell no!”

  46. If this is really about marriage being unsustainable over today’s longer life-spans, why not have marriages be for 20 year renewable terms, with substantial penalties on whoever files for divorce before the end of the 20-year period, or makes the marriage unbearable through repeated adultery, cruelty, etc?

    Such a suggestion would provoke outrage from the usual suspects, because their *real* goal is not to accomodate marriage to longer lifespans, but to continue the regime of unilateral no-fault divorce at *any* stage of the marriage.

  47. If this is really about marriage being unsustainable over today’s longer life-spans, why not have marriages be for 20 year renewable terms, with substantial penalties on whoever files for divorce before the end of the 20-year period, or makes the marriage unbearable through repeated adultery, cruelty, etc? Such a suggestion would provoke outrage from the usual suspects, because their *real* goal is not to accomodate marriage to longer lifespans, but to continue the regime of unilateral no-fault divorce at *any* stage of the marriage.

    Serious question: I understand why government/society/the state/whatever you want to call it has a compelling interest in maintaining laws against murder, assault, theft and so froth. What, I sincerely ask, is the state’s compelling interest in forcing two adults to remain in the legal state called “marriage” even after one such adult no longer wishes to do so?

    Also, what do you consider the state’s compelling interest in doing away with “no-fault” divorce and adopting the legal policy of “If two people no longer love each other, it’s damned well SOMEBODY’S fault!”

  48. Well Max, you need to distinguish between “unilateral” and “no-fault” divorce. Divorce could be “no-fault” but consensual as some people (google Alan Parkman) have argued. There’s quite a literature on this whole issue.

    That said, Jennifer’s response would be mine as well. The reality is that marriage these days is as much about the needs of the married couple as anything else. And I think that’s both irreversible and not such a bad thing. If your reply is “what about the children?” let me introduce you to someone.

  49. Well Max, I’m all about holding people responsible for their actions, but exactly where does society get the right to tell me I *will* remain married for 20 years, whether I want to or not?
    The logical response to that would be to avoid marriage altogether. So then society has to pass laws against cohabitation, then sleeping together, ad naseum. Eventually you wind up with, oh, Mississippi.

  50. Damn, I’m way too slow today.

  51. “Such a suggestion would provoke outrage from the usual suspects, because their *real* goal is not to accomodate marriage to longer lifespans, but to continue the regime of unilateral no-fault divorce at *any* stage of the marriage.”

    The problem with your continued tirades against the person “at fault” for the divorce is that the “fault” aspects typically have no commercial or financial component.

    Analogizing to a business partnership therefore fails.

    If one business partner never shows up to work, squanders business assets, etc., that has a financial impact on the partnership and the other partners have a cause of action against him.

    Repeated adultery or emotional cruelty or unavailability may not be very nice, but they have absolutely no financial impact on the marriage partnership. In fact, often the partner who is guilty of these is the financial benefactor in the marriage partnership. I would be game for assigning fault in divorce with regard to the financial settlement only if the fault involved was financial [in the case of, say, a gambling addict as one spouse].

    “You didn’t fulfill my emotional needs” /= “You owe me more money when we divorce”.

  52. Steve Horwitz,

    I’m glad to hear that Jennifer Roback Morse won’t have the last word on this.

    Thanks!

  53. Confused,

    Yeah, ensuring that her book is not “the” word on the subject from self-identified classical liberals is one motive for writing one of my own.

  54. I have asked why there can’t *at least* be laws treating the violation of marital obligations the way the law treats the breach of a commercial contract – that is to say, the contract/marriage will be terminated if that’s what the breaching party wants, but the breaching party will have to compensate the non-breaching party for the damages.

    It might be interesting to see what arguments people have against such an arrangement. If such a legal regime is anti-libertarian, then why aren’t the rules concerning busines contracts un-libertarian, as well?

  55. Or the inane child custody laws that almost always favor the woman and bankrupt the man. 30% of gross is the figure I’ve heard.

    There’s certainly some folk wisdom in that! As the old saying goes: 1.) Don’t get married. 2.) If you do get married, don’t have kids. 3.) If you do have kids, don’t get divorced.

  56. Fluffy,

    Would there be a “financial impact” in the following standard contract-breach scenarios:

    (a) An apartment-dweller violating the “no pets” stipulation in the lease?

    (b) A tenured professor violating a clause in his contract with the university forbidding sexual relationships with students?

    One can imagine scenarios in which a violation of marital obligations causes a financial impact – a husband’s wrongful behavior (abuse, adultery, etc.) drives the wronged, stay-at-home wife to flee the marital abode and go back into the job market. But the years she spent caring for her husband instead of working and updating her education has diminished her employment prospects. So she would have a plausible case for damages.

    Similarly, in a standard commercial contract, there are situations where the breaching party can claim that there was no harm done, or only minimal harm – so the home builder installed a different brand of pipe than the contract called for, but the pipes he installed are just as useful – no harm, no foul, right? Or at least the damages should be minimized.

    Comparable no-harm-no-foul situations can be imagined in the marital context.

    The important point is that even if the breaching party wins, under this analysis, it just means that he doesn’t have to pay damages, or only minimal damages. The breaching party still won’t be able to claim damages from the wronged party.

    The current set-up with marriage allows the wronged party to be held liable to the breaching party.

  57. Or even if the innocent wife had a high-paying job and supported her husband, the husband’s abuse and adultery could be such a distraction that she can’t focus on her job because of all the drama at home – thus, she misses out on promotions and raises.

  58. As I understand the statistics, coinhabiting prior to marriage increases the odds of divorce. That ignores the question of what kind of marriages do the non-divorced couples have? If they’re miserably putting up with someone they hate, and will always hate, is that necessarily a good thing?

    OTOH, too many people bail out of viable marriages because they hit a temporary rough patch. The trick is knowing whether the situation is fixable or not.

  59. What, I sincerely ask, is the state’s compelling interest in forcing two adults to remain in the legal state called “marriage” even after one such adult no longer wishes to do so?

    It’s a “cooling off” period to make sure the couple isn’t rushing into a major, life alterng decision. Also, it serves as protection from people who would use marriage and divorce to take advantage of others–the nefarious mustache-twirling villains who marry, destroy a girl’s chastity, deplete her inheritance, and move on to the next easily-seduced heiress.

    These rationalizations aside, most states allow for divorces to be obtained relatively quickly. The litigation that drags on tends to be about custody of children or assets.

  60. I have asked why there can’t *at least* be laws treating the violation of marital obligations the way the law treats the breach of a commercial contract – that is to say, the contract/marriage will be terminated if that’s what the breaching party wants, but the breaching party will have to compensate the non-breaching party for the damages.

    Max, to make a comment like that, you obviously haven’t met my in-laws yet. Sometimes one spouse is a real self-centered bastard or bitch, and wants to stay married because hey, THEY’RE enjoying themselves. Should the person breaching the contract be penalized for walking out of an abusive situation?

  61. Similarly, in a standard commercial contract, there are situations where the breaching party can claim that there was no harm done, or only minimal harm – so the home builder installed a different brand of pipe than the contract called for, but the pipes he installed are just as useful – no harm, no foul, right? Or at least the damages should be minimized.

    Comparable no-harm-no-foul situations can be imagined in the marital context.

    The important point is that even if the breaching party wins, under this analysis, it just means that he doesn’t have to pay damages, or only minimal damages. The breaching party still won’t be able to claim damages from the wronged party.

    Here’s the problem with that:

    Suppose two parties are in a marriage for 10 years and everything seems perfectly happy. Nobody cheats, nobody abuses. Then one day one spouse wakes up in the morning and says, “Later, bi-otch! I’m outta here!” and walks out and files for divorce.

    Suppose their neighbors are unhappy with each other for ten years. The husband is emotionally unavailable and detached. Both parties are as petty and mean with each other as you can imagine unhappy people being. In year 10 the wife cheats and then files for divorce.

    One could quite reasonably argue that the action of the filing spouse in the first example is even more arbitrary than the spouse in the second example. But the spouse in the first example would be considered “a breaching party who has done minimal harm” under the terms of your argument, and would suffer fewer damages, even though they would be ending a “perfectly good” marriage.

    You create a legal situation where one is better off demolishing a happy marriage than an unhappy one. And that seems a bit perverse, don’t you think?

  62. Also prolefeed, what does violating the contract mean? The most obvious answer is adulutery. But what if one party is an absolute emotionally abusive bastard or bitch and the other party, in a moment of weakness, commits adultery? Does one act of adultery outweigh years of neglect and emotional abuse? What if one side just has better lawyers and can prove adultery while the other side can’t? Best to leave it to God to sort out and stop trying to punish one side or another.

  63. I think that the government shouldn’t be involved in the marriage game at all. Any 2 people that wish to be joined in a civil union should be free to do- with no expectation of a sexual relationship. They can do it for love, money, insurance or tax purposes. And for those that believe in marriage for religious purposes- go to your church or whatever. That should be separate.

    I’m a committed Catholic- I couldn’t care less what the state says about my marriage. For me its a sacrament. Everything else is just paperwork and should be treated like every other contract. This ensures the state can’t discriminate- let the churches decide what ceromonies they wish to allow.

  64. We may be able to bring the divorce rate down a little further – but since one method of doing that is to get more people to delay marriage, this will probably lead to more cohabitation.

    It wouldn’t have to lead to more cohabitation, if only the powers that be would accept my proposals for mandatory autoerotic education.

  65. I think that the government shouldn’t be involved in the marriage game at all. Any 2 people that wish to be joined in a civil union should be free to do- with no expectation of a sexual relationship.

    I’d take it even further – any reasonable number of people could form a “family unit.” We can argue about the meaning of reasonable, maybe 6 adults and any number of children, but I think an admittedly arbitrary line should be drawn somewhere.

    Re: Contracts

    One thing to keep in mind is that most of what people seek in trying to make marriage “more like a contract” is already available through prenuptial agreements. Leaving aside the time and expense burdens (admittedly a large issue, but one that can be solved by making divorce easier), divorce is almost like a state-defined contract termination clause. The costs imposed by divorce procedures burden the poor much more heavily than the rich, so it’s essentially a regressive tax.

  66. As a rule, people are getting married for the first time at a later age. They are often postponing kids until finances look better. Both contribute to a sounder footing for any relationship.

    It is counter-intuitive to say that educated and career women are less likely to bail on a less than satisfactory relationship. Where is the motive to stick around? But, if you’re suggesting that those women pick better husbands, well, maybe.

  67. I think people should make their own arrangements. Period. No civil contracts, no state sanctioned marriage. None of it.

    You want a sanctioned marriage?

    Join a church. 🙂

  68. The thing I’ve noticed here is that everyone seems to be trying to figure out a way to deal with marriages that are ending. Well, unless it is your marriage that is ending, what business is it of yours? I never understood the whole “marriage is good for society so it must be protected” argument. If that were the case, divorce would be illegal and society could be preserved. It’s a bullshit assessment of personal relationships that the government has no obligation to regulate, and the bulk of society has no business intervening.

    All cohabitation on the other hand, be it marriage, roommates, intimate or not, has legal and financial requirements that should be taken into account. But, if nothing is contractually defined going in, then every habitating party of legal age takes the risk they may lose something, be it their share of rent or lifestyle or whatever.

    “It’s for the children” is also a blanket argument that doesn’t fit every scenario. There are some people who have children, never get married, never even live together and those kids grow up to be normal…or psychotic. The same potential comes from any lifelong, death-do-us-part marriage, and every marriage that ends in divorce. People are different and so are their children. There is no one sized fits all solution.

    Nevermind that marriage is unnatural. Males are wired to want to have lots of sex with lots of attractive females and don’t tend to get emotional (except maybe the cosmos 😉 ) after the sex. Females on the other habd tend to have natural parenting tendencies and gain an emotional attachment to males upon having sex. Of course, these are generalizations and again, no one size fits all, but it’s just not natural for monogamy and fidelity in primates. If it were, it would work all the time.

  69. Kerry left out a big bennie of Co-habitation.

    My mom can lord it over the in-laws that her son has only been married once! She doesn’t count the four years I lived with the blond chick or the other four years I lived (off and on) with that crazy lunatic nutcase pyschotic bitch that tried to kill herself several times.

  70. “Should the person breaching the contract be penalized for walking out of an abusive situation?”

    No, not if it was real abuse. I had been trying to articulate this.

    “Suppose two parties are in a marriage for 10 years and everything seems perfectly happy. Nobody cheats, nobody abuses. Then one day one spouse wakes up in the morning and says, ‘Later, bi-otch! I’m outta here!’ and walks out and files for divorce.

    “. . . the spouse in the first example would be considered ‘a breaching party who has done minimal harm’ . . .”

    Hold on, are you sure about that? It would depend on how the innocent spouse is affected by the other person walking out. Your scenario doesn’t give enough details about that aspect of the matter.

    At the very least, however, my idea would mean that the innocent spouse wouldn’t have to worry about being held financially liable to the guilty spouse.

  71. There have been studies demonstrating that cohabitation is positively correlated with the odds of getting divorced. Waiting to marry is much broader than cohabitation, so the (good) active ingredient must lie elsewhere in that Venn diagram.

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