SAN DIEGO, July 25, 2017 – When legislators first discussed the idea of making California a no-fault divorce state in the late 1960s, one of the main objections came from conservatives who thought relaxing the laws would make it easier for men to abandon their “responsibilities” as husbands and breadwinners and leave their wife and children in poverty.
Here we are almost 50 years later with a lot of experience under no-fault divorce in the majority of the United States. Those expectations turned out to be exactly the opposite of reality.
Two major studies, one conducted by Stanford University sociologist Michael Rosenfeld and another produced by the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) both found the vast majority of divorces in the U.S. were initiated by women.
According to the NCHS, about 80 percent of all divorces are legally filed by women. In the study done by sociologist Rosenfeld, a survey using data from 2009-2015 found 70 percent of marriages were initiated by women. In both studies, this applied to heterosexual marriages between adults 18 or older; the oldest couples in the studies were in their 90s.
Research looking at historical data also found women have always been more responsible for initiating divorces, although the numbers have never been higher than they are now.
What do these numbers tell us about modern marriage? Let me filter them through my experience as a family law attorney who has worked with hundreds of couples going through divorce and observed many others addressed by my colleagues. Women are unhappier in general with the modern state of marriage than men, to the point they are the ones willing to do something about it.
It will always be the case that some marriages end due to physical or emotional abuse, or causes such as addiction or mental illness. Putting these aside, marriage still carries many social and practical expectations which make it much more difficult on women. What makes the difference is the actions and interaction by the husband in daily living which play a significant role.
When men and women seek marriage counseling as a couple or as individuals and eventually end up getting divorced, women are the ones who express more unhappiness about their marriage. Men tend to be more passive players in the situation. They may acknowledge things aren’t working all that well, but they aren’t inclined to take any action. They are content to go along and simply accept things as as inevitable.
The and then subsequently divorce; or, when either partner seeks individual therapy about a marriage conflict that ends in divorce, it’s often the woman who expresses more overt conflict and dissatisfaction about the state of the marriage. On the other hand, the man is more likely to report feeling troubled by his wife’s dissatisfaction, but pretty much “OK” with the way things are; he’s content to just lope along as time passes.
Sociologist Rosenfeld says women find marriage hasn’t evolved to fit society’s current expectations for gender equality. For instance, the women who reported more dissatisfaction in his study also reported their loss of independence and controlling husbands were the primary cause of their unhappiness (American Sociological Association, 2016).
The division of household labor and chores is another key area in heterosexual marriages which is changing too slowly to accommodate modern expectations. When women with children work outside the home, the division of labor still falls primarily on them in the home. Men contribute more to household tasks but in general don’t do an equal share. This is true even though in surveys they agree overwhelmingly sharing household duties is good for marriage.
When women feel overwhelmed by work obligations, child rearing, and household management, they have little time left for managing their marital relationship, and it’s the assignment they drop first. They end up being too tired and too frustrated to be married anymore.
One significant benefit from men contributing to household chores: studies find couples have more frequent sex, and more satisfying sex. Regular sex is the marriage equivalent of an apple a day – it keeps the divorce papers away.
Myra Chack Fleischer serves as Lead Counsel for Fleischer & Ravreby in Carlsbad, California with a focus on divorce, property, custody and support, settlement agreements, mediation, asset division and family law appeals. Read more Legally Speaking in Communities Digital News. Follow Myra on Twitter: @LawyerMyra. Fleischer can be reached via Google +
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