‘Divorce means that one Party regards the marriage as having broken down irretrievably.’ In modern society divorce is just a fact of life and one in three marriages now end in divorce and there are many factors that contribute to this that I shall elaborate in this essay. There is also a Religious aspect to divorce, in Hinduism only the lowest castes could divorce until 1955. In Islam only the man can issue a divorce. In Buddhism the couple make decisions based on the five precepts.
In Christianity ‘god is displeased with people who divorce faithful spouses’-Malachi 2:14-16. In this essay the religion I shall concentrate on is Judaism.
The Social Issues
In this section I shall cover the social issues surrounding divorce, the reasons for the rise in the divorce rate and the way companies have exploited the rise in divorce rate. Even in today’s society when divorce is common practice it is still a sensitive issue. Families are torn apart, children are traumatised and shared belongings must be sold even if they have sentimental value.
There are a great many social issues surrounding divorce which I shall elaborate in this essay.
One in three UK marriages fail and end in divorce but it can often be the best thing especially if children are involved. It is far better for children to have one parent than two that constantly argue. Despite the rise in divorce and its social acceptance in modern society it is still a personal tragedy.
Reasons for divorce
There are many reasons why a couple may choose to get divorced :money problems and unemployment ; their spouse has changed ; they are being taken advantage of ; and change in sexual orientation.
The couple may also have found fault with each other or just realised how little they thought about getting married in the first place.
Divorce in the UK used to be only obtainable for reasons of adultery until 1923 when a long string of law changes surrounding divorce began. In 1923 a new law allowing women to divorce under the same terms as men, in 1937 divorce because of desertion and insanity was introduced. Later in 1949 legal aid was made available, this enabled even the very poor to divorce. In 1969 a couple could divorce upon agreement after a two-year separation or without agreement after a five-year separation. In 1984 a couple could apply for divorce after just one year of marriage. In 1995 ‘no-fault’ divorce was introduced and in 1996 you could divorce because of marriage failure after ‘a period of reflection and contemplation.’ In the UK either party can now take the custody of children.
Currently the grounds for a legal divorce are:
* Unreasonable behaviour, for example, lethargy, excessive drinking, violence, intimacy with another man/woman, keeping your spouse unreasonably short of money et cetera.
* A two-year separation and them being in agreement over the divorce or without agreement after a five-year separation.
* Two-years of desertion.
How children and parents cope
As previously mentioned divorces can be painful and emotional. These feelings are often greater when children are involved. The worries and heartache in this field is probably more acute than any other part of the divorce. I myself have no personal experience in this field but I know friends and family members who have. This is a difficult topic to deal with because many children will not speak about their parents’ divorce with anybody, not even their parents, so they must seek help from the Internet or a book.
It is not within a child’s ability to stop a divorce, the parents must decide for themselves. This can be discomforting for a child, especially a teenager, because it makes them feel that they are not in control of their own life. The parents must try to work things out before divorce and tell the child this to help them to agree that it is the best thing to do. The changes that happen in the child’s life when their parents divorce can be discomforting but they must remember, and the parent must remind them that things will settle down. Some parents think that it is a good idea to let the child decide whom to live with and this is a good idea once the child is a certain age. Most importantly the parents and children MUST talk about the situation and how everything will be better afterwards, its better to have one parent than two who don’t get along. The child(ren) must remember that a divorce is not the end of a happy relationship between the parents and that just because they do not love each other it doesn’t mean they love them any less.
Children cope in one of three ways. The first way is to bottle the feelings up inside. This is a bad thing because this leaves feelings unheard and un-dealt with. This can lead to teenage self-harm, mental anguish or even suicide. If a child is in this situation and feels unable to speak to a parent about it they should call one of the many helplines which are available. The second way is to talk to a parent. This is a good approach to divorce and usually ends with the child understanding why it is best for the whole family unit. The final way is to talk to a friend with experience, a teacher or anyone who can help. If the child feels unable to talk to a parent this is another good way.
Why has the divorce rate increased over the last twenty years?
Taken from ‘Thinking through religions’ by Chris Wright, Carrie Mercier, Richard Bromley and David Worden
Over the past twenty to thirty year the rate of UK divorce has been going up finally reaching its peak of 155000 in the mid 1990s. Now the number of divorces is 141000 per year, that is one in every three marriages ending in divorce. The diagram above shows many reasons for the rise in divorce rate but there are others. The increase in life expectancy, although not an immediate thought, plays a vital role. If people live to be 70-80 then a life long marriage will be 50-60 years. In 1960 the life expectancy was 69 and in 1890 it was 48. This makes life-long marriages 20-30 years longer.
Another factor is the end of the housewife. Women go to work as well as men meaning it is less practical to have big families and also creating a ripe environment for adultery. Now that divorcees can so easily remarry people are more likely to divorce whereas before very few people would marry a divorcee. If men are at fault the woman can now initiate the divorce, until 1923 only the man could start it now both parties can. The final reason is the acceptance of divorce in modern society. Divorced people would have been looked down on in the 1800s and early 1900s now they are nearly as common place as married couples.
The exploitation of divorce and divorcees
There is much exploitation of divorce and divorcees. In this section I will particularly focus on ‘Quickcourt(r).’ Quickcourt are an American company from Arizona. A series of machines, which look like ATM machines, has been set up throughout Arizona. One partner has to go up to one of these machines and an on-screen councillor asks, ‘Are you sure you want to get divorced?’ If the answer is yes then both partners details must be put in as well as the details of any children they may have. The machine prints out a form, which must be taken to a clerk in the court building. The marriage will have been terminated when he/she leaves the building in a process that takes under twenty minutes. In Arizona you can get divorced more easily than getting a driving license! Between 1994 and 2000 Quickcourt processed more than 10,000 divorces. The average age of the partners was 28. Quickcourt is an awful thing because it enables a divorce to occur without the knowledge of both partners. It makes divorce just as easy, if not easier, than marriage. Quickcourt was designed to reduce the need for court staff and make divorce easier, but has it made divorce too easy?
The Religious Issues-Judaism
Although nowadays divorce is often thought as a strictly legal occurrence there is often still a strong religious element. As mentioned in the first paragraph, different religions allow divorce under certain circumstances, in some religions it is compulsory to divorce in certain circumstances.
Marriage is greatly valued in Judaism because family and the home are the centre of religious practice. ‘A man without a woman is doomed to an existence without joy, without blessing, without life’s true goodness, without Torah, without protection and without peace’-Talmud. A happy marriage creates a good environment for bringing up a family. Marriage enables both partners to develop as complete individuals. The ceremony lasts twenty to thirty minutes, and consists of the kiddushin and the nisuin. Kiddushin is where the bride approaches and circles the groom. Over wine, two blessings are recited: one the standard blessing and the other regarding the commandments related to marriage. The man then places the ring on woman’s finger and says “Be sanctified (mekudeshet) to me with this ring in accordance with the Law of Moses and Israel.” Jews also believe that Jews should marry Jews because a non-Jew would not understand them however in modern Judaism out-marriage is common but it means the number of very religious Jews is falling.
Do not intermarry with them [, those of other lands and faiths]. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. Deuteronomy 7:3-4
Jewish Laws about Divorce
Excerpts from the Torah (Old Testament Bible):
‘A priest shall not marry a woman who has been a prostitute or a woman who is not a virgin or who is divorced; he is holy.’ Leviticus 21:7
‘A widow or divorced woman must keep every vow she makes and every promise to abstain from something.’ Numbers 30:9
If a man takes a wife and, after lying with her, dislikes her and slanders her and gives her a bad name, saying, “I married this woman, but when I approached her, I did not find proof of her virginity,” then the girl’s father and mother shall bring proof that she was a virgin to the town elders at the gate. The girl’s father will say to the elders, “I gave my daughter in marriage to this man, but he dislikes her. Now he has slandered her and said, ‘I did not find your daughter to be a virgin.’ But here is the proof of my daughter’s virginity.” Then her parents shall display the cloth before the elders of the town, and the elders shall take the man and punish him. They shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the girl’s father, because this man has given an Israelite virgin a bad name. She shall continue to be his wife; he must not divorce her as long as he lives.
If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the girl’s virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done a disgraceful thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you. Deuteronomy 22:13-21
If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the LORD. Do not bring sin upon the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance. Deuteronomy 24:1-4
‘If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.’
‘”I hate divorce,” says the Lord God of Israel. “I hate it when one of you [humans] does such a cruel thing to his wife. Make sure that you do not break promise to be faithful to your wife.”‘ Malachi 2:16
Marriage should be for life but Jews accept that marriages can fail. In Judaism divorce is allowed and easily obtainable but it is never the best option. There is always an attempt to save the marriage and counselling by a Rabbi is common, here is an old Jewish saying that signifies their feelings to divorce,’ Whoever divorces his first wife even the altar sheds a tear on her behalf.’ The husband is, strictly speaking, the only partner allowed to initiate the divorce. In order to do this he must obtain a get from a rabbinical court (Beth Din.) Some progressive Jews allow the woman to obtain a get because without one the woman cannot remarry and a man cannot be forced to give his wife a get. The get is phrased in positive terms not signifying the relationships breakdown but stating that the woman is free to remarry. The reason that it should be the husband is because he entered the contract by giving her the ketubah. The actual divorce takes place three months after separation to ensure that the wife is not pregnant. The children of a divorced couple are illegitimate regardless of the position at their birth.
The term no-fault is relatively new in terms of civil divorce but Jews accepted them as valid thousands of years ago. The Talmud sets down many valid reasons for a divorce including, she spoiled his dinner; he prefers another woman and he must divorce her if she commit adultery even if he wishes to forgive her. The get need not be delivered personally but can be couriered to the wife (or husband.) A civil divorce is not enough for a Jewish marriage to be at an end and without a get remarriage is adulterous and any children are bastards.
Rabbis can force a man to divorce his wife if a medical condition has made him repulsive, when he neglects his marital contract or where there is sexual incompatibility. If a man goes to war he should give his wife a conditional get so that if he dies and no body is found the wife can remarry otherwise she becomes agunah meaning that she is anchored and cannot remarry.
In both civil and religious terms divorce is an awful occurrence for all those involved. It is, however, normally the best or only option. I have come to the conclusion that divorce is acceptable and should continue to be religiously and civilly legal. However, marriage should always be intended for life at the outset.