Times of Change

In most Western countries 'no fault divorce' laws were generally passed in the late 1960's and early 70's. Before this time divorce was hard to get and if obtained was generally less than fair to women and came with an attached stigma.

Today divorce is common and the nuclear family, a style of family which rose to prominence after World War II, is becoming increasingly  fragmented. Before the war people lived mostly in extended family groups, often with unmarried sisters or aging parents residing with the family; there may also have been live in 'home help' or servants. Since the 1970's however,  there has been a decline in the nuclear family, even though it is seen by many as the preferred and privileged family type.

A Nuclear FamilyCredit: Flickr Tetra Pak

Flickr Tetra Pak

The nuclear family is rooted in patriarchal societies, run by men for the benefit of men; women essentially performed essential services, without pay and were of low status. Today there is still the expectation that women will be the primary care givers of children, the disabled and the elderly in addition to earning in the job market.

In the postmodern Western world families are becoming increasingly diverse, as are the ways that people chose to live their personal lives. Prior to the 1970's, married couples were primarily concerned with fulfilling a role as a: good homemaker, responsible parent and provider. Such marriages have been termed “companionate marriage” by Andrew J. Cherlin, professor of sociology at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University. 

As women have entered the work force and increasingly obtained equality and equal human rights with men, the era of companionate marriages seems to have passed its used by date. In the United States marriage is often held up as an ideal, yet among Western nations the United States has the highest rate of marriage and divorce. Interestingly according to the U.S. Census Bureau divorce rates are higher in the Bible Belt then New York City. There seems to be a few reasons for this. The first is that in the South, the young appear, according to available data, to have lower education levels and marry earlier. Also the Southern states are religiously conservative and frown upon pre-marital sex, which seems to push the young into marrying earlier. The census data also showed that the divorce rate for women was actually lowest in New York.

Divorce(104880)Credit: Flickr weelakeo

Flickr weelakeo

In the American state of Louisiana, in attempt to stem the tide of divorce, two kinds of marriage were introduced in 1997 (Nock et al. 2008). The first kind of marriage was called a 'covenant' marriage, where the couple must provide an affidavit that they have had pre-marriage counselling, which stresses the serious nature of marriage and that it should be 'for life'. To obtain a divorce from this type of marriage is like taking a trip back prior to the 1970's, before 'no fault divorce'. A felony conviction that brings about death, or at least life imprisonment, physical abuse of spouse or child, or  abandonment must be shown (Baker et al. 2009: p149-50). The second type of marriage in Louisiana, is pretty much the modern type of marriage agreement, where divorce can be obtained without showing fault. The couple do however have to live apart for 180 days. And yes overwhelmingly in Louisiana the second style marriage is the most popular (Monkerud 2006).

Many tend to think of the Victorian era as a period of morality and yet marriage was in general a kind of business transaction, with little choice. Women of the higher classes needed a dowry and once married all the women's property and belongings would belong to her husband. Women had no real options as they received a very limited education and work was out of the question. For a women to get a divorce, she had to show that her husband had  engaged in adultery and  also something extra like: cruelty, bigamy, incest, or bestiality” (“Marriage”).For women a divorce held a stigma, baring her from much of her previous society. Also before the 1839: Infants and Child Custody Act, men would automatically gain custody of any children, even if they were the partner at fault.

The poor had even more limited choices, women generally did not have the luxury of a dowry and had to work to support themselves, in jobs with little pay (board and may be a pair of boots once a year) and very long hours. There was no unions, no sickness benefits and jobs were hard to get. A great many it seemed fell into prostitution. In 1870 William Acton, M.R.C.S. in Prostitution Considered in its Moral, Social, and Sanitary, tried to estimate of the number of prostitutes in London using statistics and calculations, claimed that: "one in twelve, of the unmarried females in the country above the age of puberty have strayed from the path of virtue.”

While the nuclear family is still awarded increased privilege and status  than other family types, many people in reality are choosing to live alone as a first choice  according to Roseneil and Budgeon (2004). Increasingly people retain their own homes and have an intimate relationship with another person who also has their own home. In Scandinavia these type of couples, dubbed living apart together are officially recognised for taxation purposes. These relationships are usually monogamous and committed, but the couple live separately. Many individuals in these kind of relationships have been married and divorced, or lost their former partners due to death.

In recent years the gay community have sought marriage equality, which is obviously a simple issue of human rights. Although Denmark legally recognized same-sex unions in 1989 and the Netherlands legalized same-sex marriage in 2001, followed by at least eleven other countries. The gay communities wish to expand marriage rights and equality however,  brings to mind a cartoon in The New Yorker:

“Gays getting married?  Haven’t those people suffered enough?”


Some Big Divorces


Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee- Married four days after meeting, in a beach side ceremony, with Pamela wearing a bikini. Later the couple broke up with Pamela claiming the trouble was Tommy's excessive drinking and Tommy claiming Pamela taught the boys to swear.

Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton-This bizarre couple had matching cemetary plots and vials of each others blood. As the realtionship imploded, Angelina demanded her blood back and Billy Bob was carrying on with other women. 

Tom Cruise and Mimi Rogers, Nicole Kidman and Katie Holmes- All the wives were 33 when the marriage broke down.



Tammy Wynette - D-I-V-O-R-C-E