When discussing the topic of changes in divorce law we typically talk about divorce theft and how this causes men to be understandably hesitant to marry, as well as the impact it has on men and their children who are directly victimized by the new regime. However, divorce “reform” is as much about manipulating the power balance within marriage as it is about ensuring that women can frivolously divorce while collecting cash and prizes. Economists Stevenson and Wolfers describe this in their paper Bargaining in the Shadow of the Law: Divorce Laws and Family Distress (emphasis mine).
In the literature on the economics of the family there has been growing consensus on the need to take bargaining and distribution within marriage seriously. Such models of the family rely on a threat point to determine distribution within the household. The switch to a unilateral divorce regime redistributes power in a marriage, giving power to the person who wants out, and reducing the power previously held by the partner interested in preserving the marriage.
They aren’t under any illusions; divorce reform is all about redistributing power from the spouse who wants to honor the marriage vows to the spouse who doesn’t. This is one of the best kept open secrets I’ve ever encountered.
Also, don’t be confused by the gender neutral terms; women are overwhelmingly the ones who don’t want to honor the marriage vows. This is confirmed by the academic study “These Boots Are Made for Walking”: Why Most Divorce Filers Are Women and the data on the age of wife at the time of divorce. Putting this together, divorce reform is all about redistributing power from the husband who wants to honor the marriage vows to the wife who doesn’t.
Stevenson and Wolfers are very open about this. They of course present it through the feminist narrative that husbands are evil brutes which must be tamed, lest they abuse, murder, or drive their wife to suicide:
Examining state panel data on suicide, domestic violence, and murder, we find a striking decline in female suicide and domestic violence rates arising from the advent of unilateral divorce. Total female suicide declined by around 20% in the long run in states that adopted unilateral divorce. We believe that this decline is a robust and well-identified result, and timing evidence speaks clearly to this interpretation. There is no discernable effect on male suicide.
They clarify that this isn’t about women previously being “trapped” in abusive or dangerous marriages, but about how putting all husbands in fear of divorce might tame potentially abusive husbands (emphasis mine):
To see how divorce laws affect the external threat point, note that prior to unilateral divorce, a partner wishing to dissolve the marriage could leave without their spouse’s consent. However, in such a situation, a legal divorce is not granted and, as such, the right to remarry is forfeited. Under unilateral divorce the value of the exit threat increases for the unsatisfied spouse, as the right to remarry is retained regardless of the position of one’s spouse. Thus, the exit threat model predicts that changes in divorce regimes will have real effects. If the divorce threat is sufficiently credible, it may directly affect intrafamily bargaining outcomes without the option ever being exercised.
Indeed they found that this was in fact the case. They close their conclusion with:
The mechanism examined in this paper is a change in divorce regime and we interpret the evidence collected here as an empirical endorsement of the idea that family law provides a potent tool for affecting outcomes within families.
Again, they weren’t looking for evidence that divorce reform allowed wives to escape abusive husbands. They were looking for and found that changes in family law served as a sort of marital sword of Damocles over husbands, causing them bend to their wife’s will out of fear of unilateral divorce.
In this context we can understand how cases like John’s and walking in hell while not the standard outcome of “divorce reform” also aren’t unintended consequences. They serve as a warning to keep all husbands in line.
It is also worth noting that while academic studies couch this in the feminist narrative of checking what would otherwise be an army of sadistic husbands, this is really about husbands living in fear of their wife becoming unhaaaapy and dynamiting the family. Only a fool hasn’t noticed that one of the most prominent themes in women’s entertainment is the concept of the empowerment women experience from frivolously divorcing.
Christians are actively reinforcing these legal and social changes by abandoning the biblical view of marriage in favor of the feminist view. While the old paradigm was that a woman who couldn’t keep a man was a failure, feminists and Christians have turned this around and now view a husband who can’t keep his wife haaapy as a failure. At the same time, the wife who kicks the father of her children out of the house is now seen as heroic. This idea that husbands must grovel to their wives to stave off her ever threatened unhaaapyness is so ingrained in modern Christian thought that there was no meaningful backlash amongst Christians when this was made the central plot of the movie Fireproof. Tens, perhaps hundreds of millions of Christians watched the movie and delighted in its presumed Christian message on marriage. We saw proof of the same thing with the women of christianforums.com going on for over 40 pages passionately arguing the morality of frivolous divorce. Shortly after I pointed this out, the moderators of the forum enacted a new rule forbidding members from writing anything in judgment of frivolous divorce (emphasis mine):
Please remember that when someone shares a personal experience it is not up for judgement. Divorce is always a last resort, but we will not allow judgement of those who do make that choice.
This abandonment of the biblical concept of marriage in exchange for the feminist view of marriage doesn’t just impact the marriages of Christians. Christianity is the driving moral force in the west, and as such their turning their backs on biblical marriage has given all women in the west moral cover to use the new legal threatpoint against their husbands to maximum effect. Husbands are hemmed in by all sides cheerleading his wife to frivolously divorce if he fails to make her happy.
Yet despite the millions of innocent men and their children who have been ground up by the the machinery needed to keep husbands in their place, wives now report less marital happiness (Source: National Marriage Project, P 67 Fig 4):
We are feeding millions of innocent men and children to the machinery of divorce to keep this threatpoint in place, and not even making women happier with their marriages.
Sword of Damocles image information.