walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

_Putting Asunder_, Roderick Phillips

Subtitled: A History of Divorce in Western Society

Published by Cambridge University Press in 1988, this monster of a book turns out to be relentlessly good, if a bit dry read straight through. Phillips is careful in the conclusions he draws (which are kinda rare) and frequently points out the flaws in assertions and conclusions made by less careful people writing about divorce. So there _is_ analysis, altho more of the This Can't Be The Whole Story sort than of the And It All Happens Because of X sort.

It's so rare for him to mis-step that the one time I caught him at it, I was startled. But he predicted that the trend in divorce law was unlikely to reduce waiting periods below a year. Ha! Dead wrong on that one! But it's really okay, because in those cases where the wait between filing and final is very short, plaintiff(s) are supposed to assert that the marriage broke down that period or more earlier (typically, altho I think not always), which reconciles very well with his observation that divorces increasing in the wake of procedural/rules/legal reform often occurred because couples long de facto divorced finally could make things official, and one of the big motivators for filing was one or both wanting to remarry.

I picked this up around the time I started the search for paperwork from my grandmother's three divorces and my great-grandfather's (other parent) two divorces. I thought it might help to have a more detailed context for their divorces, especially if it became difficult to track down the files. In the event, finding the files was not as difficult as I had anticipated, and all the divorces were really and truly processed -- the remarriages were not bigamous, which I had wondered about, given the amount of moving across state and international borders that were involved in my grandmother's marriages and divorces.

I initially got the book via ILL, but had to return it before I finished it (it's about 700 pages long), so I wound up paying $70 or so for a used copy. I have no intention of letting this thing go; it is entirely too interesting and seems worth referring to, should I need to go digging around for other divorces in the course of my genealogical research.

Don't get me wrong: this isn't genealogical reference. But it does give the reader a solid understanding of what kinds of separations and/or dissolutions were available in a given place and time for a pretty wide range of time and place, which is potentially helpful.

The last sections of the book are particularly interesting to read as we work our way through the process of establishing a greater degree of marriage equality. The slowness of the process, and the piecemeal nature of it are strikingly similar to the process of increasing access to divorce. Finally, reading the evolution of divorce -- and noticing how Roderick Phillips spends so little time on average family size/number of kids (mentions, only) -- really makes it clear how much marriage and divorce are about property at this point, and how little is about custody (that aspect of family law is completely available to not-married-to-each-other-parents at this point) issues.

Clearly, we're going to keep tinkering with marriage and divorce, who have access to them, and what comes along with registration and dissolution, as time goes by. I always wish that people could do that with a bit more historical perspective, but I recognize that that's basically a bunch of foolishness on my part.
Tags: book review

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