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Pearce 1 Dylan Pearce Bedell CAS137H 8 November 2013 Increased Divorce Rates in America: A Major Paradigm Shift On the

special day of a wedding, two individuals look each other in the eyes and recite vows that include til death us do part. This all powerful phrase parallels the invincibility that marriage is supposed to signify. Its intended to be a unity that never ends, no matter how much adversity a couple may encounter. However, an escape from this interminable commitment has emerged in society- a concept known as divorce. Divorce legally separates the bond between the pair who swore to stay together. This action was very uncommon throughout most of United States history and was highly looked down upon. Then, a major paradigm shift unfolded before the eyes of all American citizens that drastically changed family structures- divorce rates skyrocketed. Divorce rates increased exponentially in the late twentieth-century United States because of the creation of no-fault divorce laws and the expansion of womens rights. This trend has damaged children most of all because they must cope with the egregious impacts of child support incompetence, living with a single parent, and joining a blended family. From colonial times until just a short century ago, most families in America lived on farms and its members relied upon one another for economic purposes (Macionis 331). For instance, the man was generally the person who joined the labor force and brought home the money, while the woman stayed home to perform domestic duties around the house. Each

Pearce 2 needed the other to uphold their duty and, for this reason, maintaining a marriage was often stressed to the highest degree. Statistics show that only about five percent of first marriages ended in divorce throughout most of the nineteenth-century (Amato). Nevertheless if the sin of divorce were to occur during this time, then one spouse had to be blamed for the separation in the court of law by their significant other. Additionally, the notion of alimony usually played a factor, meaning that one spouse had to give regular payments to their ex as retribution for terminating the commitment. This usually involved men paying their ex-wives because there was a concept in early American culture that men ought to provide for women (Macionis 331). If the court did not indicate large payments for women to receive, the latter would be destined for poverty because joining the labor force was generally impossible. This resulted in deprivation of housing, sufficient meals, and clothes to wear at times. Clearly, getting a divorce seemed not only unethical, but disadvantageous for all parties a century ago. Contrarily, the installation of no-fault divorce laws during the late twentieth-century tore down the barriers that blockaded divorce. The trend of no-fault divorce laws began in California in 1969 because the governor of the state, Edmund Gerald Brown Sr., began to notice two major conflicts with the contemporary divorce laws. He noticed that at fault laws were causing family instability after the divorce and were leading to frequent acts of perjury in court (Wardle). In regards to family instability, the blame-games being played in court were causing hostility between former spouses and were completely eliminating the possibility of reconciliation or maintaining family ties after separation. Similarly, the need to put one spouse at fault was causing perjury in court because attorneys were under great pressure to garner evidence, but did not always have the means of doing so (Wardle). Part of this reason was because there were generally few witnesses in conflicts that occur in home environments, so the spouses would often

Pearce 3 create fake stories to make their counterparts seem malicious before the judge. For instance, divorce lawyers would frequently tell clients to fabricate stories of having sleepless nights due to mental cruelty and others would manufacture fake, out-of-state residencies for their clients in order to attend court in states with more lenient laws (Wardle). In response to such issues of family instability and perjury, Governor Brown hired a Governors Commission on the Family in 1966 to recommend a solution (Wardle). The Commission, lead by Professor Herma Hill Kay, looked to England as a model to follow. England had just recently enacted the Reform Act of 1969 which stated that marriage could be terminated legally if there was an irretrievable breakdown between the spouses (Wardle). This influenced the Commission because, despite the fact that Englands new law diverged from longlasting traditions of at fault divorces, it was highly effective in maintaining kinship and increasing fairness in court (Wardle). In turn, Professor Herma Hill Kay and his group advised the governor to install no-fault divorce laws, hoping that the success in England would impact America in the same way. Governor Brown responded by making California the first state to utilize no-fault divorce laws in 1969 and thereafter, every state in America followed its lead. By 1985, a couple in the United States no longer had to blame one spouse for adultery, abandonment, or physical abuse while trying to obtain a divorce. All that has to be said before the judge now is that the relationship can no longer be resumed due to irreconcilable differences (Macionis 331). Afterward, the court will attempt to evenly divide property and determine which spouse deserves custody of children, if the couple has any. Simultaneously, women in the United States began advocating for more rights and were receiving many new ones. For instance, females lectured, wrote, marched, lobbied, and practiced civil disobedience to gain the right of suffrage during the twentieth-century (Our

Pearce 4 Document- 19th). Then in 1920, the nineteenth amendment was ratified in the United States and granted women that right to vote. Females also began entering the labor force and their wages steadily increased throughout the 1900s, approaching that of men. As a result of this new independence and the formation of no-fault divorce laws, divorce rates shot up to alarming levels by the 1960s and 1970s. Couples no longer had the pressure of blaming one member for their severance in court, and destroying their lives in the process with the burden of alimony. Additionally, men no longer had to feel guilty about leaving a wife impoverished because she had no liberties and could not enter the labor force to make a living. Subsequently, in the United States, more than four in ten of todays marriages will end in divorce (Macionis 330). This figure is ten times the amount that existed just a short century ago. However, while these events all appear to be positives for couples who want to end a painful relationship, the rising divorce rates are having horrific implications for American children- those suffering from a situation of child support incompetence in particular. One increasingly prevalent consequence of child support incompetence is poverty. After divorce, courts often rule that the non-custodial parent pay a certain amount of money on a monthly basis to financially support his or her child. Yet of the children who should receive support, fifty-five percent receive partial payments or no payments at all (Macionis 333). These non-custodial, divorced parents not paying are typically men who move to different states to avoid their financial dues- hence the popularization of the term deadbeat dads. Many of these kids need these dues to stay above the poverty line because the custodial parent cannot provide for the offspring by his or herself. Studies even show that custodial parents income diminishes considerably after a divorce (Desai). With a low custodial parent income and a lack of support from deadbeat dads, these unfortunate American children do not have the basic needs that their

Pearce 5 counterparts with married parents grow up with. For example, many kids in this scenario end up living in poverty-stricken inner city communities, which historically lack sufficient schools and have very high crime rates. Child support incompetence is why children in divorced homes are almost five times more likely to live in poverty than are children with married parents (Desai). Consequently, many of these children that are abandoned by divorced, deadbeat dads are forced into living with a single parent, which has many negative externalities on its own because of child care issues. As previously noted, women are generally the custodial parent after divorce and women have also been entering the labor force more and more often since the beginning of the twentieth-century. Additionally, the United States does not have a large scale government program to provide child-care services to the public like many other developed, democratic nations do (Waldfogel). Keeping these three notions in mind, there is a major problem for many single mothers concerning who will be taking care of their children while they are at work. Many of these women try to find family members to watch their kids, but a large number have to resort to child-care facilities which are financially strenuous. These women, who rely on child-care facilities, now total twenty-eight percent of all mothers and they generally choose a facility that aligns with their income. High-income parents send children to places that stress learning for development, while parents with low income send children to places that lack necessary skills and tools to teach such strategies (Macionis 328). This situation is obviously very unfair to any child because developmental skills at young ages often parallel the occupations they pursue as adults. Thus, the children have to bear the burden of a low-income job throughout adulthood because their parents decided to divorce. Likewise, older children in single-parent households suffer from a lack of adequate child care while their custodial parent is working as well. These kids must learn to fend for themselves

Pearce 6 at home between the end of the school day and the end of the work day, becoming what is known as latchkey kids. This scenario is very dangerous because latchkey kids are generally supervised much less of the time than their peers. According to a study of sophomores in high school, parental supervision dropped from eighty-four percent of the time in households with two parents to seventy-five percent of the time in single-parent households (McLanahan and Sandefur 108). Without an authority figure to demand rules, latchkey kids frequently make poor decisions. For instance, they have the freedom to roam the streets and get involved with drugs and crime. This is why children whose parents are divorced are considerably more likely to be incarcerated in juvenile delinquent centers (Desai). Their imprisonment can be seen as unjust because these children never learned appropriate conduct to follow due to a lack of parental supervision. Unfortunately for these kids, the trend is only worsening overtime. According to Macionis, In 2003, about one in three families with children under eighteen years of age had just one parent in the household, a share that has doubled since 1970 (326). Similarly to single-parent families, joining a blended family can have damaging impacts on children due to conflicts with step-parents. A blended family consists of a combination of biological parents and step-parents for children and it is very persistent throughout the United States. As Macionis points out, four out of five people who divorce remarry, and most do so within five years (334). After the remarriage, forming a relationship with a new step-parent is very difficult for children and vice versa. The step-parent habitually wants superiority over the child because he or she wants to fulfill the roles of a normal parent- teaching the child lessons, preparing the child for adulthood, reinforcing the child for good behaviors, and punishing the child for misbehaviors (Deal). However, many times the child feels as though the step-parent is over-stepping his or her boundaries. At this point a power struggle develops and the child will

Pearce 7 not adhere to the step-parents demands (Deal). In turn, the step-parent will become frustrated with the child and display their anger in various fashions. This is why research shows that physical and sexual abuse is widespread among blended families in America (Macionis 334). To make matters worse, children of divorced families have more difficulty recovering from injuries, so the effects of abuse can be very long lasting and permanently detrimental. Statistics reveal that children that are living with both biological parents are 20 to 35 percent physically healthier than children from broken homes (Children Divorce Statistics). Evidently, children are drawing the short straw in the scenario because they are still confused about their biological parents divorce at the time of remarriage; this new family is forming in less than five years after the colossal end of their former family. As a result, its understandable that children have difficulty relating to a strange man or women who is replacing a biological parent. Despite these complicated circumstances, such children get abused for disobedience and then cant recuperate afterward. Correspondingly, step-parents who have these poor relations with their new blended families are generally not willing to allot time or money to children, which harms the latters academics. Sociological studies have shown that fathers who help their children with school work are thirteen percent higher in families with biological parents than step-families (McLanahan and Sandefur 108). This is a serious problem because young children not only look to their parents for completing assignments; they seek advice for time management, positive feedback for high grades, and a person to vent to during stressful periods. Additionally, academics are injured because these step-parents often refuse to invest money in the most advantageous education opportunities for their children. For instance, they will not hire tutors to prepare for standardized testing and will not pay for private high schools if the local, public

Pearce 8 school is inefficient. As a result, numerous score reports depict children of blended families receiving lower marks than their peers on achievement tests, such as the SATs. The frustration of falling behind others in their class causes these children to dissociate themselves from school and many give up. An indicator of this tendency is that the high school dropout rate of children of divorced parents is roughly two times higher than that of children whose parents are married (Children Divorce Statistics). Evidently, academics and abuse must be things to consider when parents decide to have a divorce and begin new blended families. Clearly, the act of divorce has changed drastically from the creation of the United States until modernity. The act of splitting up a marriage once implied the destruction of lives by blaming one spouse in court or leaving one completely impoverished, without the necessities of life. Then, a major paradigm shift occurred in American society during the late twentieth-century that put an end to such implications. The creation of no-fault divorce laws and the expansion of womens rights both made divorce more feasible for the two parties. Nobody had to be charged with abuse, adultery or anything of the sort. Also, women no long stressed about the inability of entering the labor force to provide for themselves. All that has to be done now is announce a simple statement in court and many exes could happily stray away, along their own paths. However, one concept that is often overlooked is the effect this trend toward increasing divorce rates is having on children. After all, the term matrimony is derived from the Latin phrase the state of motherhood, so obviously children often play an integral role in the union between two spouses (Macionis 324). By tearing apart this matrimony, children must deal with new family arrangements that can be very harmful. Three arrangements that can have particularly atrocious impacts on children are child support incompetence, living with a single-parent, and joining a blended family. The damage includes poverty, developmental issues, incarceration, physical

Pearce 9 abuse, and even academic failure. Rather than recognizing and resolving this terrible conflict that many American children face, society only exacerbates the issue by continuing to divorce. The United States now has the second highest divorce rates globally, only falling behind Sweden (Macionis 330). To ensure the well-being of children in America, more parents must consider these results before stepping up to the judge to declare irreconcilable differences.

Pearce 10 Work Cited Amato, Paul R. The Consequences of Divorce for Adults and Children. Wiley Online Library. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2004. Web. 20 October 2013. Children Divorce Statistics. Children-and-Divorce. Children-and-Divorce.com, 2013. Web. 20 October 2013. Deal, Ron L. How to Build a Healthy Relationship with Your Stepchild. CBN. The Christian Broadcasting Network, Inc., 2013. Web. 3 November 2013. Desai, Amy. How Could Divorce Affect My Kids. Focus on the Family. Focus on the Family, 2007. Web. 20 October 2013. Macionis, John J. Social Problems: Second Edition. New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc., 2005. Print. McLanahan, Sara, and Gary Sandefur. Growing Up with a Single Parent. The United States of America: The President and Fellows of Harvard College, 1994. Print. Our Documents- 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Womens Right to Vote (1920). National Archives. The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 2013. Web. 20 October 2013. Waldfogel, Joel. Electoral Acceleration: The Effect of Minority Population on Minority Voter Turnout. Ideas. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, 2001. Web. 20 October 2013. Wardle, Lynn D. No Fault Divorce and the Divorce Conundrum. BYU Law. J.Reuben Clark Law School, 1991. Web. 3 November 2013.