For most women, rarely does a 50-50 split provide enough support to bridge the even bigger gap we are required to fill once a marriage is over.
Divorce is a $28 billion a year industry that affects 50 percent of the people involved in marriage. Between 70 and 80 percent of divorces are initiated by women. Among college-educated women, that number jumps to 90 percent. But even though women overwhelmingly are the ones who want divorce, men somehow benefit disproportionately. Why?
It is not surprising that the main reasons women want divorce are also contributors to why men benefit. Over 50 percent of households are dual income—yet women are still responsible for the lion’s share of domestic duties. This takes an incredible amount of time and energy, for which many men get a pass. Post-divorce, 80 percent of the custodial parents are also women. This means that domestic duties become an even greater burden for the woman, not the man. For him, it means greater freedom.
Women also take on more of the emotional labor in marriage than their male spouses. When a marriage folds, their role as primary emotional support person increases. She must guide herself and her children through the turbulent separation phase and reorganization of her family while also fulfilling both parental roles in the home as single mother. Women are left with less energy for their careers, professional and personal lives outside of the home.
The upside to being an independent woman is that we are less willing to put up with a man’s unacceptable behavior, abuse, infidelity and ego driven insecurities than past generations. Unfortunately, when a marriage ends, unlike Melinda Gates or Mackenzie Scott, Jeff Bezos’s ex-wife, who earned settlement monies in the billions of dollars, most of us are not awarded a billion-dollar settlement that we can fall back upon.
For most of us, rarely does a 50-50 split provide enough support to bridge the even bigger gap we are required to fill once the marriage is over.
“Women’s household income fell by an average of 41 percent with divorce, almost twice the size of the decline that men experienced,” reported the the U.S. Government Accountability Office to the Senate. According to the U.S. census, 20 percent of women fall into poverty after a divorce (compared with 11 percent of men). About 25 percent lose their health insurance (though usually temporarily).
Women are also “more dependent on their partners and therefore at a higher risk of losses in terms of quality and security of housing after divorce,” wrote Thomas Leopold in his study, “Gender Differences in the Consequences of Divorce: A Study of Multiple Outcomes.” “Women experience disproportionate declines in household income and standard of living as well as sharp increases in the risk of poverty. Their former husbands, in contrast may even improve their standard of living in post-divorce years.”
“No-fault divorce was intended to take a lot of conflict out of the divorce process but has not lived up to that goal because court-based processes carry the baggage of being adversarial in nature,” said Bill Doherty, a professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota. “The system makes a lot of money this way. The only way to curtail the divorce-industrial complex is to create an alternative pathway to divorce that keeps courts and judges out of the process.”
Inside a $28 billion dollar business, where women and children suffer disproportionately from its dissolution, why are we not more focused on creating the alternative pathway that experts suggest? It is time to take an alternate route.
How about we stop focusing on whose fault it is once it’s over and start encouraging women to negotiate a marriage contract up front, before she says the words, “I do”?
We are required to sign contracts for every single important fiduciary relationship in our lives. We sign agreements with our cell phone and internet providers, car dealers, financial lenders, insurance companies, landlords, tenants, employers, airlines, schools, gyms, even libraries.
Why not for marriage?
What if we executed a “Declaration of Roles and Responsibilities”—a binding contract to compel each party to fulfill their roles and responsibilities within the relationship. Answer the questions: Who is going to earn the money? How does each party intend to contribute, both financially and in human labor? Who will raise the kids? Who will work? Where will the couple live? What kind of lifestyle will they have?
Let’s depart from the fairytale of marriage, “to love and to hold, in sickness and in health, to death do us part“ and focus more upon the reality based statistics that surround the institution. It’s time we remove the veil and stop believing that all we need to do is seal our marriage agreement with a kiss. Instead let’s start crafting a legally binding agreement to provide a more equitable and predictable outcome for ourselves and our children and seal it with a notary stamp of approval instead.
It’s time to make the institution of marriage more equitable. Perhaps if we encouraged women to stand up for themselves, instead of demanding that they stay small and quiet and agreeable, we could help prevent post-divorce poverty of women and children nationwide.