By Bonnie Erbe, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
New York and California usually lead on all manner of state law reform. But in this one peculiar case, California led the nation in passing no-fault divorce laws (passing its version in 1969 which was signed by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan) and New York is currently working on its late-in-the-game version, 41 years later.
The New York Times last week ran an online roundtable discussion on no-fault divorce. Some of the participants delivered genuinely interesting facts: One sociologist, for example, revealed her findings that no-fault divorce did not raise divorce rates in states that adopted it. But it did lead to substantially lower rates of domestic violence.
Less domestic violence and no increase in the divorce rate are positive developments. So to that extent, I say, huzzah! But the head of New York State's NOW chapter, Marcia Pappas, argues against no-fault divorce because she says it strips the non-earning spouse of bargaining power:
We must look at the socioeconomic standing of women in our society. Women clearly continue to be the non- or lesser moneyed spouse, as women continue to give up careers and financial independence for the role of housewife and mother. For this reason alone we must look closely at how divorce affects the lives of women and children and the role that the state should play to ensure that homemakers and children not be left destitute after divorce.
I must say, I disagree with this approach. The longer we mollycoddle women, the less well women are going to fare economically. Women must realize that marriage is an economic partnership as well as a romantic one, and if women want to give up working to stay home to raise children, they are also giving up their financial futures as well.
Forty years after second-wave feminism I find some 50-something friends waking up to the fact they allowed themselves to become financially dependent on their spouses and they are extremely uncomfortable with their current situations. The women to whom I am referring are extremely well-educated and had promising careers in their 20s and 30s. But they dropped out of the workforce when the kids came along. It's much, much tougher, if not impossible, for them to reenter the workforce in any meaningful way now. What I have advised each of them is to launch their own small business, rather than try to find corporate work.
None of this is new. It's a cycle that has repeated itself for several generations now. I see some 20-something friends headed in the same sorry direction. But I also see some 20-somethings agreeing before marriage with their husbands-to-be that each spouse will do half the child-rearing and each will continue to work full time. This lowers the amount of daycare these parents will need to pay for, and it assures a higher income for the wife throughout her career. It also means once the kids fledge, the woman does not find herself completely financially dependent on her spouse and unable to kick-start her own career again.