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Conservatives Want So Badly To Keep Women From Being Able To Get Divorced

An illustration of a woman sitting inside the outline of a home, with bars drawn over the whole structure.

Conservatives have an unhealthy and radical obsession with trying to control people’s personal lives. We have seen the party of “limited government” launch so many battles in court and in the legislature over who people can love, how they can love, and more. Now, the next big legal battle may be over the issue of divorce.

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Conservatives are constantly bemoaning the destruction of the “family structure.” They say divorce rates are high (false) and marriage rates are low. Forbes cites a “lack of commitment” as the leading cause of divorce. Fox News and right-wing podcast hosts love to blame feminism. The Washington Post just put out an op-ed blaming liberal women for refusing to refusing to date bigoted Trump voters.

Rather than address any of the systemic issues that might be slowing down marriage rates (like this country’s total lack of a financial and social safety net) or just letting people live their lives as they choose, a lot of conservatives seem to think the solution is to make it harder to get a divorce.

Earlier this year, right-wing pundit Steven Crowder got a lot of attention for complaining that his wife can file for divorce even if he “doesn’t agree to the divorce.” Professional misogynist Matt Walsh has been ranting for years about how easy it is for people, mostly women, to get a divorce and how much that hurts men.

What these men and many like them are specifically angry about is not just divorce but “no-fault” divorce, which basically means that someone can file for divorce without having to allege or prove the other party’s behavior is to blame. (I.e. Steven Crowder’s wife can legally dump him and he has to just accept it.)

What is no-fault divorce and why do conservatives hate it?

No-fault divorce is commonly known by the more familiar term “irreconcilable differences.” With fault divorces, you are often looking at things like emotional or physical pain being levied onto one person by their spouse. No-fault divorce allows couples to split without either party having to have committed some sort of wrongdoing.

Interestingly enough, no-fault divorce was first legalized in 1969 by California’s then-governor, Mr. Ronald Reagan. Every state would follow suit by 2010. CNN notes that a big driving force behind no-fault divorce was the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL). I am sure that name alone makes people like Matt Walsh incensed.

In one way, these conservative pundits are right: No-fault divorce does make it easier for couples to split. Where we disagree is in their automatic assumption that that’s a bad thing. This path can prevent costly and often traumatizing litigation. Women’s rights advocates also believe this option gives women more of a say in their marriages and in the dissolution of their marriages.

Legal attacks on divorce

It’s not just right-wing podcast bros and Fox News hosts who are attacking divorce.

Missouri, which has a stict ban on abortion, also has a statute on the books essentially banning pregnant women from getting a full divorce unless they are able to convince a judge to grant one. (These pleas are usually unsuccessful.)

As TMS explained earlier this year:

Under the Missouri law, a pregnant person can still file for divorce, but a judge can and typically does refuse to grant that divorce until they have given birth or are otherwise no longer pregnant, possibly via a miscarriage or abortion, which is, of course, also now a crime in Missouri after six weeks. (The other states where this law exists—Arkansas, Texas, Florida, and Arizona—also have heavy restrictions or outright bans on abortion or are currently working to implement them.)

As CNN writes: “In Louisiana earlier this year, state GOP members debated officially backing the dissolution of no-fault divorce, but no decision was made. A lack of full-on legislative attempts to curb the practice hasn’t stopped an abundance of conservative anti-divorce rhetoric, or an answering wave of fear from progressives.

And The Atlantic recently wrote:

But now conservative politicians in states such as Texas and Louisiana, as well as a devoutly Catholic husband who tried to halt his wife’s divorce efforts in Nebraska, are attacking no-fault divorce. One of the more alarming steps taken in that direction came from the Texas Republican Party, whose 2022 platform called on the legislature to “rescind unilateral no-fault divorce laws and support covenant marriage.” Given the Republican Party’s control of the offices of governor, secretary of state, and attorney general, and both chambers of the state legislature, Texas has a chance of actually doing it.

Let people get divorced!

Studies show that the rise of no-fault divorces has had a correlation with decreasing female suicides as well as a decline in intimate partner violence. That is a good thing, no? Shouldn’t we follow the research? Another major cause of divorce cited by Forbes is domestic abuse, which reportedly drives nearly a full quarter of divorces. But conservatives insist on prioritizing the “family unit.” When you put God into the mix, things get even murkier. People like the new Christofascist Speaker of the House are against no-fault divorces and support “covenant marriage.” This makes divorce very, very difficult to obtain.

Another common argument against divorce is the insistence that we must think of the children. But research suggests this concern may be overblown. No one is promoting divorce just for fun, and no one is saying it’s a pleasant experience for anyone involved, least of all children. But a study published by World Psychology in 2019 (as noted by CNN) found that “most children whose parents divorce are resilient and exhibit no obvious psychological problems.”

So we have to understand this new potential fight for what it is: more control over women. Republicans want to control every aspect of women’s lives. The framing is key though, as they love to hide behind “protecting the kids” and “family values” narratives. Their intentions are vile but they are masterful at messaging, unfortunately. We cannot be blinded by their gaslighting. It seems wild that in 2023 (and beyond) we could actually legally rule on something like no-fault divorces, but most of us did think that Roe v. Wade would be left alone as well. Let’s not be surprised or shocked by anything anymore.

(featured image: julymilks/Getty Images)

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