This post will be the first of a two-part series, which discusses how divorce has changed throughout American history.
Prior to 1969, it was much more difficult and riskier to obtain a divorce anywhere in the US. This was a time when you needed to legally accuse your spouse of ruining your marriage to obtain a divorce. That meant that unless you could prove that your spouse had an affair, abandoned you, and was inhumanely cruel towards you, courts could deny your divorce, no matter how much you disliked one another or unhappy you were.
What did this mean for the public?
This created many difficulties because unless your husband/wife ran away, or was a cheater, you essentially had to accuse them of being physically or emotionally abusive. Abusive relationships are notoriously hard to prove, and many abuse victims find it difficult to leave the partners they fear. We can only imagine how much harder it would be to escape an abusive spouse if the only legally approved methods of leaving involved taking legal actions against them.
This also meant that if you left an abusive spouse and ran away- for your own safety, or your children’s safety, or just your general piece of mind and happiness- they could accuse you of abandonment. This meant that you would have been legally responsible for causing damage to the marriage, and would negatively impact your divorce entitlements.
No-Fault Divorce: The Game Changer
Then, Ronald Reagan signed the first no-fault divorce law into act: the Family Law Act of 1969. This dramatic change to marital life (or shall we say, the end of marital life) was exceptionally popular because people were now allowed to leave marriages without accusing each other of horrible things. Reagan cited the Family Law Act of 1969 to be one of the biggest mistakes of his political career, but it was too late to- he initiated a chain reaction that would change divorce forever. Within the following five years, no-fault divorce laws were enacted in forty-five states across the US.
Setting American’s free to make decisions about their ending their marriage did not occur without controversy. Predictably, divorce rates increased, and some religious organizations accuse it to be the beginning of the end of nuclear family. Another source of controversy is that only one spouse needs to think the relationship is beyond repair and can trump the other spouse’s desire to save the marriage. Some have also cited no fault divorce to have caused the feminization of poverty, referring to the increase of Americans experiencing single motherhood (and the correlated poverty) as an unintended consequence.
Despite the controversy, no-fault divorce remains incredibly popular amongst the public and is practiced in a majority of states, Colorado included. No-fault divorces are typically quicker, less expensive, and involves less conflict between the divorcing parties, which means they are also less stressful for the children involved. This also allows divorcing couples to have more privacy throughout their divorce. No-fault divorce also made it easier for those in abusive relationships to leave their spouses, since they didn’t have to publicly testify against them.
As divorce attorneys, we at Alexander & Ewert LLC see many divorces occur for many great reasons, beyond abandonment, affairs, and cruelty (don’t get us wrong- these are great reasons to divorce someone, just not the only great reasons).
In the next segment, we will discuss some of the greater level effects of no-fault divorce on society, and how it has changed our outlook on marriage and relationships, and divorce laws afterwards.
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Wex Definitions Team (July, 2021). Extreme Cruelty: Legal Information Institute. Cornell Law School. https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/extreme_cruelty
Carter, Joe. (August, 2019). 5 Facts about no-fault divorce. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/5-facts-about-no-fault-divorce/
Single Mother Guide. (n.d.) Single Mother Statistics. Single Mother Guide. https://singlemotherguide.com/single-mother-statistics/#:~:text=The%20poverty%20rate%20for%20single,%25)%20for%20married%2Dcouple%20families.&text=Among%20children%20living%20with%20mother,families%20were%20counted%20as%20poor.
Wilcox, W. Bradford. (2009). The Evolution of Divorce. Cited in National Affairs issue number 51, published Spring 2022. https://www.nationalaffairs.com/publications/detail/the-evolution-of-divorce
No fault Divorce: C.R.S. 14-10-110