Marriage Protectionism and No-Fault Divorce

Posted on January 17, 2011 by


When Beverly Willett’s husband told her he was leaving her for another woman, she told him she wouldn’t agree to a divorce. It was in 2002, and at that time, New York State didn’t allow no-fault divorces. Willett’s husband couldn’t prove that she’d broken her marital contract, and he couldn’t convince her to let him go. Willett fought her husband in court for five years, until he and his new fiancée moved to New Jersey and pursued a divorce through New Jersey’s no-fault divorce law.

And now Beverly Willett is angry—not at her husband, at the government. Last year, Governor David Paterson signed into law a no-fault divorce bill, making New York the last state in the country to allow one partner to end a marriage without explicit cause or consent. Willett called it “one of the biggest mistakes of [Paterson’s] career.” First in The Daily Beast, then in Huffington Post Divorce (and again here and here), Willett argues that no-fault divorce “takes away a woman’s bargaining chips when her husband decides he wants to ditch her.” She writes,

[N]o-fault isn’t the answer. It won’t cure our national preoccupation with searching for happiness in greener pastures–-the root cause of rampant divorce–-any more than a fault-based system of divorce can. We’ve created a happiness culture without understanding what that means or how to achieve it. Ditch your spouse and eat, pray, love your way to the next one.

I don’t mean to belittle what Beverly Willett went through in her divorce, but it seems to me that Willett is a perfect example of the fundamentally-flawed reasoning of progressivism and big-government conservatism—that is: what is bad must necessarily be persecuted by government, what is good must necessarily be protected by government, and personal choice be damned. Lasting marriages are certainly preferable to divorce, especially when children are involved; but does it follow then that the government should make it more difficult for people to escape unhappy marriages? Why are people—and women especially—so quick to blame their problems on a lack of government involvement?