Love Bites

We pay the price for the sins of our fathers. In no realm is this more obvious than the post-divorce status of the modern American male. Vilified, sometimes rightfully so, most often not. A series of hoops to jump for that Y chromosome have been implemented because the vile minority have shown how low we can go. This system has been set up to protect every woman, regardless of her need for protection, and we all bear the brunt, as we often do, of government-imposed generalization.

Children, for this? Suffer.

It is an oft-repeated, though statistically inaccurate, aphorism that, “half of all marriages end in divorce.” It’s closer to 40%, but that still leaves the United States with one of the highest divorce rates in the industrialized world. The establishment of no-fault, unilateral divorce proceedings have empowered those who may have been trapped in an unwanted marriage where fault was a requirement, but it has also made it easier than ever to obtain a divorce in most jurisdictions.

Divorce rates are actually trending downward in this country since 1990, but with the current rate of 3.4 divorces per 1,000 persons, that still means over 1 million couples split in this country every year. The consequences of these divorces are difficult to measure and open to interpretation, and the ramifications of the dissolution of marriage are myriad, but are no doubt on the frontlines of a gender-based rhetorical war.

Divorce is so common that, anecdotally, we have all seen marriages end amicably as well as those that end bitterly. These subjective interpretations are not carried in IRS or Census Bureau numbers, of course, but the data do point to certain trends that suggest correlative relationships between divorce and it’s effects on the man, the woman, and any children born of the union.

Men are getting custody of their children at much higher rates than in the past. And women are paying alimony at higher rates than ever before. There still remains a large disparity–at least in terms of percentages–between how family courts in this country treat men and women.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, though the number of women paying alimony is rising, 97% of people paying alimony in this country are men. Women also receive custodial responsibility of children at a rate five times higher than men, and are awarded child support at a rate seven times higher. Because women initiate almost two-thirds of divorces in this country, fathers’ rights and men’s rights groups have interpreted these figures to mean that alimony and child support give a financial incentive to divorce, and encourage the use of children as leverage in divorces that become contentious.

Some states have legislated the amount of alimony and child support and define a minimum length of marriage to qualify for alimony except in special circumstances (usually involving domestic assault). Most jurisdictions leave the specifics of these matters to the judiciary — the result of which is a complicated spectrum of decisions that often seem capricious to those involved. And because divorce is a civil matter, the Constitutional right to due process is usually ignored when allegations of illegal activity, such as substance abuse or domestic violence, arise, usually deferring these matters to any criminal proceedings that may or may not be attached to the case.

Divorce and custody hearings seem to be areas in which women do have a systemic advantage. Exceptions can be found on a case-by-case basis, however, the data show that women are granted custody, child support, and alimony at rates far higher than men. Even so, women with custody tend to live below the poverty rate in much higher numbers than their married or childless counterparts suggesting that the system may be flawed in both directions.

Divorce hurts both parties in many ways, not the least of which is financially. The caveat is there are so many other factors to consider, such as income levels (men tend to make more than woman), employment rates (there are more men in the workforce, but men experience a higher unemployment rate), and remarriage rates (men tend to remarry at a higher rate than women), that to isolate a single variable is almost impossible in such a fluid environment of factors.

It is nearly consensus, however, that other than in an intact two-parent family, the best possible outcome for children occurs when both parents take an active role in the lives of the children involved.

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