Aloni on the Partisan Politics of Marriage

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Erez Aloni (Whittier) has an op-ed in the Guardian, Republicans Want ‘Stronger’ Marriages but are Fighting Equality Within ThemHere is an excerpt:

Even as social conservatives pontificate on preserving the sanctity of marriage and the importance of making divorce once again more difficult, other conservatives have launched a complementary crusade if ‘I do’ isn’t forever: hands off your ex’s money. * * * [C]onservatives around the country are fighting to make it easier for the wealthier partner or spouse to walk away with minimal financial obligations when marriage does end in divorce – which has the potential to disproportionately affect women.

That concurrent campaign, also led by conservatives, employs a very different tactic, and has largely evaded public scrutiny. In recent years, several states have passed or considered laws that would reduce alimony payment periods (Massachusetts, Florida, Connecticut), make prenuptial agreements more difficult to invalidate (Colorado, Mississippi), and make it much harder for unmarried partners to claim support from their exes. * * * Taken together, these reforms to alimony, palimony and prenuptial law create significant freedom for the wealthier party to skirt any financial responsibility to support an ex-partner while limiting protections for the less-well-off partner. Paradoxically, these changes provide incentives both not to get married … and then to get divorced if you do.

These modifications have gradually seeped into the legal system, with alimony reform being perhaps the most familiar (and controversial) development. Legislation was enacted last September in New Jersey, which followed Massachusetts’s lead: most notably, for marriages that last fewer than 20 years in New Jersey, alimony payments can no longer exceed the length of the marriage. Two years earlier, New Jersey had amended its prenuptial agreements law: before the changes, the courts had discretion not to enforce prenuptial agreements if their terms were unfair at the time of divorce, recognising that engaged couples are often blind to the possibility of divorce and that circumstances and needs change over the course of a marriage. Since 2013, however, if couples follow certain procedural requirements when they sign their pre-marriage agreements, courts are legally bound to enforce their terms. * * *

Conservatives claim that they want to strengthen marriage in order to reduce poverty. But these simultaneous reforms to divorce law actually weaken marriage by giving the economically better-situated partner or spouse (usually the man) a legal escape hatch to dodge financial obligations, thereby perpetuating the cycle of poverty, particularly for women. If conservatives – or we as a society – are genuinely interested in strengthening families, it is time to rethink the legal system that makes it easy for one partner to walk away from a relationship with little or no responsibility for the life of the other.

Read the full piece here.

-Bridget Crawford

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