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February 06, 2007


I read that NYT article with dismay. It is very sad to see such egregiously flawed data interpretations promulgated as 'fact'. I have quite a bit of training in this type of survey research, and I am aware of the methodology the survey used, and it is reasonably valid. HOWEVER,the NYT "reinterpreted" the data, turning a valid piece of science into a woefully inaccurate, misreported article. Methodological problems abound with this “NYT reinterpretation” of this survey. “Common-law is neither mentioned or defined, but without clarifying this point, the term “married” makes no sense, since it is not clear what happened to “common-law” and “cohabitation” couples. The accompanying table implies that these categories have been combined with “legally married”. Furthermore, the age categories start at age 15, and of course the majority of 15 to 20 year olds are single, so including this age category would exaggerate the “% of women who are not ‘married.’” In addition to including children in a ‘marriage’ study, the interpretation ignores the fact that first marriages are now occurring progressively later in life, and increasing longevity is increasing the time that seniors live as widows and widowers. These trends will inevitably yield a high % of women who are not married, irrespective of divorce statistics. Finally, these data are 6 years old, and the failure to adequately define the socio-demographics in this study makes it impossible to accurately compare it to previous studies. Legitimate scientists would correct egregious flaws like these, or journal editors would refuse to publish their paper.

Beyond this disastrous methodology, I agree that this is an unbalanced political ideology piece rather than valid research reporting, because the data is interpreted almost entirely from a women’s perspective, which of course ignores the men’s perspective, yielding inherently imbalanced and confusing interpretations.

At least, the article does express certain opinions, and other studies do show that divorce is easy and prevalent in North America. In other words, I agree that marriage, as a concept, is in trouble, and I'm not blaming any particular gender or interest group for this. Historically, the most remarkable change in marriage is that it is no longer governed by contract law, where it had resided for thousands of years. Marriage vows, promises, and ceremonial statements, such as, “To have and to hold, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, until death do us part”, bear little legal weight, are no longer a legal contract, and are unenforceable in law. Marriage and divorce law is generally too unwieldy to remediate most unethical, immoral, or even illegal spousal conduct. Divorce proceedings in North America are rife with deception, fraud, embezzlement, perjury, defamation, and catastrophic financial and emotional outcomes. Children are especially victimized. The philosophy of “marriage for love”, a concept that is relatively recent in human history, has not provided adequate guidelines about what to do when love breaks down.

Pre-nuptial contracts have begun to replace marriage vows, because they can be written in myriad ways, are enforceable, and are supported by all the power and precedence of thousands of years of contract law, with enforcement processes and procedures clearly understood by most litigation experts. The simplest method to bypass the problems of Las Vegas-style marriages and divorces made on a whim, is for couples to write and sign their own “cohabitation” contract, to replace marriage licences and pre-nuptial agreements. This method is feasible right now by couples of any gender combination or sexual orientation. The contract can specify certain benefits exchanges and obligations, with certain penalties for abrogating parts and/or all of the contract. Specific legal marriage documents would not be used, but a ceremony marking the signing of this cohabitation contract is feasible. If the couple later have conflict over the contract provisions, it could be settled by standard litigation procedures. As in all important contracts, great care is needed for each signatory to commit fully to the process, with a clear understanding of the consequences of abrogating the contract and its provisions. This may seem 'cold', but it’s actually quite 'hot'. Couples who love and trust each other deeply would sign the contract willingly, because they wrote it, and “to have and to hold” would be legally defined and enforceable. If they cannot negotiate such a contract, they may well not be ready for any type of cohabitation arrangement. It would also force irresponsible signatories to reconsider their negative behaviours in light of tangible legal consequences. This contract method would not replace marriage for everyone, but it would create another legal route to recognize romantic commitment. It would motivate both signatories to stick together through “thick and thin”, since they would know that easy, no-fault, consequence-free divorce or abandonment was not possible. There would be serious and clear legal consequences for signatories who let themselves fall out of love.

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