Family Pressure: When the Pot Boils Over
An interesting book was released earlier this summer, “Marriage Markets” by June Carbone and Naomi Cahn, which describes the state of marriage in our modern American society. As a divorce lawyer, I found the book accurately reflects much of what I observe in my day-to-day profession.
The authors are both professors who teach family law courses. They grapple with the concept of marriage and how well (or not) it works for people of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds.
With the divorce rate of almost 50%, approximately half of American kids are born into single-parent homes; or homes that become single-parent. Marriage, an institution that protects and fosters the growth, enrichment, and advancement of children, is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain for many Americans.
What I find especially interesting in this book is the way the authors compare the state of marriage to the realm of family law; specifically the ways in which the law has lagged behind the (de)volution of marriage in our society.
The authors draw the following conclusions about the state of marriage and our family laws today:
Marriage still works for the top-third of the wealthiest families as they typically delay having children until they secure lucrative careers. Also, the wealthier couples are the only couples who have the financial resources to “fight” it out in court if they get a divorce.
More middle class couples are divorcing due to the fact that many good blue-collar jobs (for men) have simply vanished, while women have been able to obtain careers and can be self sustaining financially. The authors assert that many middle-class women simply won’t put up with unhappy or abusive marriages today, as they may have done in the past when they did not have access to employment.
But, for many middle class divorcing couples, protracted litigation during a divorce proceeding is simply too expensive. Some women are worried about supporting husbands who have been out of work or who earn less than they do; the benefits of “taking it to the Judge” are minimal in their estimation.
Lower class families have the hardest time. The authors contend that for parents on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder, family law is downright punitive; paternity suits that result in child support obligations that are rarely met and with mother’s trading access to the child for some form of financial support.
From my own professional experience, I agree with the authors of Marriage Markets. Family law as we know it today requires some careful thought and consideration as to how we, as a society, can better protect the interests of the children born to single parent households. The authors urge the reader to focus more on “the children whose lives are being shortchanged by growing societal inequity” and less on marriage itself.