Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Divorce in Dixie, Part II

This is the second post on this topic. For the first post, please click here. Mississippi in general is a wealth of posts on What Not To Do. It is tempting to create a separate blog on everything that is screwy with that state, but an occasional blog post here will suffice - to make me glad I don't live there.

A man staggers into a bar. The first patron screams, "OMG! You are bleeding! Can I get you a Band Aid?" He staggers further. The second patron screams, "Seriously, you are bleeding! I think you might need stitches." He staggers further. The third patron grabs a gun, and proceeds to shoot a bear who has the man's head in his mouth. She says, "Well, that should take care of the mauling, but I think you may want to stop that bleeding now."

The US Census Bureau "Marital Events of Americans: 2009" report is my favorite thing right now. Shout out to the Census Bureau, in my top 3 government agencies, along with the National Parks and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It seems to be picked up by a number of news outlets, the most recent being PBS NewsHour last night. Looking at the data, there does appear to be a relationship between children of divorce and growing up in poverty. It does not indicate whether poverty caused the divorce or divorce caused the poverty. However, if you want to design the project, there's a dissertation in Public Policy in there.

Not being able to isolate the dependent and independent variables does not prevent some politicians from attempting bad policy moves. If divorce causes poverty (unproven), then the solution is to make divorce harder. Enter the Covenant Marriage. Adopted by the states of Louisiana, Arkansas, and Arizona (and no where else... think on that), the Covenant Marriage is a separate legal category of marriage which makes it difficult to divorce with cause, and almost impossible without. Measures have been introduced in a number of states to create a similar system, including such forward-thinking and enlightened states as Mississippi, Florida, Georgia South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. (Also: Minnesota, Indiana, and Iowa - I have my eyes on you three... you are on notice, especially with your love of Michele Bachmann.) Remember the good old days when there were no No Fault divorces, and divorce proceedings often involve one spouse relocating to Nevada for two months? Neither do I - then again, I don't live in New York, the closest state to having Covenant Marriage without adopting a cutesy quasi-biblical name for it.

Back to the Quasi-Biblical: Isn't that the main problem here, and also with the CNN article? If divorce was just something you did on a whim, like getting a belly button ring or eating an entire pint of Ben & Jerry's, then yes... you may have a point that the way to decrease divorce is to make divorce harder to obtain in a land where our moral compass has gone astray, yadda yadda yadda. If divorce is a symptom of a larger problem, then the issue will not be solved. What needs to occur is an examination of the root causes: poverty, gender inequality, lack of education, and moral prudishness. Instead, three states have legislated a two-tiered system of "I'm Better Than You" marriage without looking at the hard evidence as to why marriages breakdown.

I believe it was the great 1970s Hoosier philosopher, Franklin M. Burns, who summed up the problem best in his landmark theory: "Marriage is probably the chief cause of Divorce." Maybe the answer to making divorce harder without changing the laws is to make marriage harder to obtain. Think about all of the steps involved in getting a drivers license: prove your identity, take a class, log a certain amount of classroom time, driving time, supervised driving time, and submit the paperwork, take and pass a written exam, take and pass a supervised road test, fill out more paperwork, pay a fee, have your picture taken. To get married: Be 18, head to the courthouse with your birth certificate and another adult with a birth certificate who isn't your cousin, fill out a form, pay a fee, and have a third party mail back a form to the courthouse. Why is it that a marriage is easier to get in most states than adopting a kitten from the shelter? Maybe that's where the problem lies - make it more difficult to get a marriage license than to apply for community college.

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