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Reminder: High Divorce Rates Are Better Than the Alternative

Divorce is always an option and that’s a good thing.

A small statue of a kissing couple shatters against a pink background.

**Content warning: discussion of domestic abuse**

Conservative courts and lawmakers have been making their disconnect from the average American extra apparent in the past few years. Reproductive rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and general rights to bodily autonomy are, statistically, supported by the average American. Nevertheless, government and judicial systems seem to be determined to take us back to the 1950s.

Right-wing pundit Steven Crowder recently made headlines for complaining that his wife can divorce him when he “doesn’t agree to the divorce.” (Three guesses why his wife divorced him but you won’t need that many.) But, remarkably, it’s not just far-right reactionary podcast hosts that are fighting to oppose the right to divorce.

Missouri made headlines last year over a law that bans pregnant people from getting a complete divorce. Some of the books banned by conservative politicians in recent censorship rampages were children’s books that featured divorce and/or blended families.

Somehow, in 2023, national divorce rights are still under attack—which means so are marriage rights and the rights of people in general.

Divorce may seem to many like a sad thing, but it’s a necessary option for the sake of genuinely healthy relationships and individual safety.

History of Divorce

It may be hard to believe, but a century ago, America was generally more accepting of divorce (at least when compared to European nations during similar times). William O’Neill’s Divorce in the Progressive Era found that “In 1880 there was one divorce for every twenty-one marriages… by 1916 it stood at one in nine.”

Of course, that didn’t mean these were ‘no-fault’ divorces, where one spouse can file for divorce for any or no reason, with or without the consent of the other party (i.e. the thing Steven Crowder hates so much). Many judges only allowed divorce in cases where a “guilty” party offended an “innocent” party, which led some couples to stage adultery with a hired actor and a photographer to catch the “guilty” party in the act. Imagine not being able to divorce without lying to a judge, even when you both agree to it.

Other couples went to Mexico or Haiti to get their divorces finalized.

It didn’t help that women’s rights advocates couldn’t agree on whether divorce was good for their cause or not, with Ordained Protestant Minister Antoinette Brown Blackwell being vocally against the practice.

But then came an unlikely champion: Ronald Reagan. Yes, that Ronald Reagan.

During his tenure as governor, Reagan made California the first state with no-fault divorce, which, in the long term, was found to reduce women’s suicide rates by 20%. The idea that everyone was getting divorced in the 1970s isn’t wrong, but it was also skewed due to the decades-long unhealthy marriages that were able to end when people no longer had to fake adultery or leave the country to get divorced.

The benefits of divorce

Despite claims from the religious right, the national divorce rate has been declining since the 1980s. But again, the divorce rate we do have should not be considered a bad thing, especially when considering how recent our understanding of domestic abuse is; there wasn’t a widespread statistical look at domestic/child abuse until the 1970s, meaning there were centuries where many societies did not publicly talk about abuse or divorce in ways meant to support victims.

It’s still difficult for many to accept that just because a pre-1970s marriage was long, that doesn’t mean it was happy. And just because a marriage ends, that doesn’t mean it was unsuccessful—not if your determination of “success” prioritizes emotional and sometimes physical well-being.

Divorce can help reduce the toxicity in a family structure, or otherwise allow people who want different things in life to find actually fulfillment of those needs and wants. It can give people greater financial freedom, or freedom in general. It can also be used to actually prevent the dissolution of relationships, as many couples have used divorce proceedings to analyze what went wrong in their relationship and how they can either fix the relationship or improve the next one.

Divorce is especially important when you remember that the alternatives are lying to a judge or being trapped in an unhealthy or even abusive marriage.

If you or someone you know is in a potentially abusive situation, call 1-800-799-7233 or text 88788 for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

(featured image: Sohl/Getty Images)

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Kimberly Terasaki is a contributing writer for The Mary Sue. Dhe has been writing articles for them since 2018, going on 5 years of working with this amazing team. Her interests include Star Wars, Marvel, DC, Horror, intersectional feminism, and fanfiction; some are interests she has held for decades, while others are more recent hobbies. She liked Ahsoka Tano before it was cool, will fight you about Rey being a “Mary Sue,” and is a Kamala Khan stan.