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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Divorce: 5 Things You Didn't Know

Divorce is popular -- too popular. It's like your favorite local band ruined by fame: once the masses first got their hands on the no-fault divorce in 1970s America, they abused it. Now, thanks to them, it's primed for a major backlash.

This backlash doesn't mean the public has developed a distaste for the divorce-related details of others -- not on your life. The divorcing parties themselves don't even need to be all that intriguing. Consider the insatiable interest in the unfolding split between Jon and Kate Gosselin, two of the most uninteresting and unsympathetic people imaginable. Pathos are better spent on their eight kids, whose world -- which used to revolve around themselves, appropriately -- will soon revolve around other, less attentive worlds created by an ugly divorce, like revolving custody, revolving stability and daddy's revolving girlfriends.

As yet another marriage is torn asunder, we offer up 5 things you didn't know about divorce.

1- Born-again Christians have the highest divorce rate

The first thing you didn't know about divorce is that some predictors of divorce need to be shouted from the mountain top.

A study by Barna Research Group found that the 33% divorce rate among born-again Christians, or evangelicals, was the highest among Christian denominations. Not surprisingly, these results met with a flood of criticism, much of which raised one of the most disputed questions in this field: What is the biggest predictor of divorce among the broader population, the most common of all the common denominators?

The answer generally depends on who you ask, but two predictors frequently mentioned are first, age at marriage and second, income -- notably, couples under age 20 with an income under $25,000 have a very high risk of divorcing. Throw in a pregnancy, and they're pretty much doomed.

2- The average divorce costs over $50,000

The popular legal DIY site tells potential customers that divorce "doesn't have to be complicated or costly" and that their services can wrap up an uncontested divorce "in three simple steps," all for $299.

What that fee does not cover (and doesn't purport to cover) are all the hidden costs. Using a variety of statistics from the 2006 US Census Bureau, came to an average figure for those hidden costs: about $53,000. While admitting that every divorce is different, the site nonetheless reached that figure by adding up costs such as couples/marriage therapy before the divorce, individual therapy for themselves and their children after divorce, moving costs, fees for attorneys and financial advisors, the costs of selling the marital home, of acquiring a new mortgage on a smaller home for one spouse, and apartment rental costs for the other spouse.

Point being, there's far more to divorce than three simple steps.

3- Liberal divorce laws often follow political revolutions

Another thing you didn't know about divorce is that it had a role in killing or overthrowing the likes of Louis XVI, George III and Tsar Nicholas II.

Divorce has a chummy relationship with radical politics and the revolutions they bring about, according to Canadian historian Roderick Phillips. In Putting Asunder, his account of divorce in the West, he notes three examples: the slew of pro-divorce legislation that followed the American Revolution; the enactment in France in 1792 of history's first no-fault divorce laws following the French Revolution; and Vladimir Lenin's relaxed divorce laws in the wake of the Russian Revolution.

4- Divorces have been in decline everywhere but Utah

The 50% divorce rate among American couples is an oft-cited myth, but in fact, US divorces have been in a slow, steady decline since 1979. In the last few years, however, the people of Utah have seemed determined to buck that trend, as they are the only state in which the number of divorce filings have not fallen.

To their credit, Utah's legislators have decided to do something about it. In 2007, they passed HB 128, the nation's first divorce orientation legislation. Among other things, the bill established a mandatory divorce orientation course for couples filing for divorce. The bill doesn’t really make it all that much harder to get a divorce in Utah; rather, it creates an optional intermediate step prior to filing, one that, it can be assumed, is meant to get couples to reconsider.

5- Divorce is a product of the Protestant Reformation

The last thing you didn't know about divorce is who to blame for making it all possible in the first place.

Prior to Martin Luther's Protestant Reformation, Western society's attitudes about marriage were guided strictly by Catholic marriage doctrine and its only out -- an annulment. Reformers rejected that doctrine, first by citing shaky New Testament scripture and then by claiming that annulments were so widespread and so easy to get that they were pretty much the same thing as divorces. The arguments were so weak that not even King Henry VIII -- arguably history's first serial divorcer -- stopped persecuting Reformers, even after splitting his country with the Roman Catholic Church.

Still, the end consequence is that, although marriage has retained ties to its sacred past (i.e. weddings in churches, officiated by the clergy), divorce has developed into a purely secular affair.


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