September 25th, 2012

Books about Divorce

I'm about 450 pages into _Putting Asunder_, but I ran out of time and it was requested so I had to return it; I'm waiting for a used copy to show up so I can finish it.

In the mean time, a used copy of Glenda Riley's _Divorce: An American Tradition_ has appeared. I'm sampling, in part because I'm fairly certain I read this in the mid-1990s not too long after it first came out and after I got divorced. I no longer own it, and I cannot now recall if that's because it disappeared in a book loan, or if I decided I didn't need to keep it around any longer. I will say this much: I can see a whole lot of flaws in this book _now_ that I did not see at the time.

Case in point: in the wake of no-fault, it became apparent that a lot of divorces were repeats (sometimes, the same couple divorcing a second time, but definitely involving people who had already been divorced once). There are a lot of possible reasons why this might be the case (my favorite: you know how to do it already so it's much easier to do it an nth time) and it is far from obvious how that breaks down across the population (I'd _love_ to know). Riley offers up several possibilities.

p. 171 of the Bison Press reprint: "Remarriages crumbled under the weight of responsibilities to children and former spouses, financial and property concerns, differing habits and outlooks, two jobs or careers, scarred emotions, and interference by former spouses, relatives, friends, and co-workers. Given these and other problems confronting remarried couples, their high rate of divorce is unsurprising."

Maybe. Any kind of evidence would be helpful. Quite a lot of these things do not obviously weigh any heavier on a person who has divorced and remarried than one who has been married only the one time. In particular, in a world with common divorce, you are already juggling your extended family's complex relationships _from their_ divorces, so even that isn't unique to the remarried. And a lot of remarriages which fail don't involve children, or only involve grown children. Interference is possible in any marriage.

Anyway. p 172 gets even odder. "Many of the divorced women and men mentioned earlier in this study also remarked that they felt extremely hopeful at the beginning of a remarriage, and they were shocked and disappointed when it ended. One interviewee who had been divorced four times remarked, "Each time I marry, my hopes and emotional investment are higher because I think with maturity I will surely get it right this time...[sic] When the marriage flops, it throws me into a worse depression than the last one.""

Amazingly, this is _not_ presented as an explanation for why remarriages tend to be less successful than first marriages, and the higher the number of remarriages, the shorter they tend to be. But it _feels_ like a pretty good explanation to me.

I've been having a surprising amount of trouble finding decent books on this topic. Everything seems to be somewhat out-of-date and thus very little addresses what seems to be the widespread impact of our collective realization that marriage has a good chance of ending in divorce, that is, why bother to get married at all. It's clear from reading court pages about the process of getting a divorce that the judicial system is trying to provide support for people who did not get married but did break up. They kid situation is getting run through family court, but there isn't really anything available to manage the property side. It would be interesting to talk to a lawyer who specialized in this area. I remember my estate guy saying back in 2005ish that the pressure for same sex marriage was coming from family law/divorce court people who wished it could be handled in a more orderly fashion.

Even the somewhat-academic books on divorce, such as the Phillips and Riley books are at pains to support marriage as an institution, and argue that no-fault was a way to support/preserve that institution. I can't help but feel that the best argument on that side is that as annoying as the divorce process is, it's still better than trying to wind down a complex and financially/emotionally/etc. enmeshed relationship _without_ any structure.