Is marriage the key to keeping a family together?
Family, the law and your relationship status
James and Debra are having a tough time in their marriage. After ten years, three kids and a hefty mortgage, domestic stress has built to a horrifying crescendo. Divorce seems to be the next logical step with the only one thing stopping them: how will divorce affect their kids?
This couple is facing a dilemma known and understood by many marriages.
A growing number of people are starting to see marriage as unnecessary and out-dated. Whether it’s for personal or political reasoning, a change in the expectations of “marriage” has been recorded steadily since the 1940s and more rapidly since the 1990s (AUSSTATS).
In 2010, a study by the University of Queensland found that 15% of all relationships were de-facto. This was mirrored by a decline in the amount of marriages and an increase in instances of separation and divorce.
Whilst some would argue that a couple’s relationship status is their own business, it’s clear that authority figures, and the populace alike, still hold strong opinions about what should constitute a family unit.
Some controversial figures recently came out against de-facto relationships, separation and their respective effects on the state of the family.
So is marriage the panacea to all problems? Should couples stay together through thick and thin?
Put a ring on it
Beyonce says that “if you liked it then you should have put a ring on it”, and it seems one British High Court Judge, agrees.
Sir Paul Coleridge recently opined that a couple should not have children if their relationship wasn’t stable enough to merit getting married. Coleridge, who was rebuked for judicial misconduct and resigned in December last year, used his significant career in family law to speak openly and widely as a champion for traditional family values, include the importance of marriage to the family unit.
Sir Coleridge quoted Marriage Foundation research that suggested children with unmarried parents were twice as likely to suffer a family break-up as those with married parents.
Furthermore, Judith Wallerstein, author of The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce believes children are almost always better off when a family remains intact. Even if the parents hate each other.
Wallerstein’s contentious research came to the conclusion that divorce on children is so devastating that parents should always stay together.
Breaking up is hard to do
Divorce or separation are never easy decisions where children are involved. Parents are often so worried about the welfare of their children that they will stay together despite a crumbling relationship. And a parent’s fears aren’t completely unfounded.
Divorce can, undoubtedly, be a very upsetting time in a developing person’s life. A small study of 400 adolescents gaging the effect of post-traumatic life incidents found, that ranked amongst life-threatening events and the witnessing of vicious attacks, the divorce of one’s parents was highly related to posttraumatic stress.
However, in a quantitative review of sociological research, Paul R. Amato found that there was statistically very little difference between the long-term outcomes of children of divorce and children from still married households. Interestingly, a 1985 study by E.Mavis Hetherington of the University of Virginia found some evidence to suggest that children of divorce who witnessed high levels of conflict prior to the separation were more well adjusted than those whose parents’ conflicts were concealed from them.
What’s remained constant within the research is that children raised in a household of regular parental conflict find it harder to adjust in relationships, education and the workforce -- this remains true whether or not the heads of the household are married, single, de-facto, separated or divorced.
So what’s for me and what does the law have to say?
Marriage and the law is a sticky subject. From equality and gay rights to wedlock, to the rights of single parents to adopt; from wills, estates and power of attorney, to custody battles, child support, prenups and the splitting of property; like it or loathe it, the law and your relationship are intricately entwined.
Overall, I believe if parents can’t live together in a home without co-operating as co-parents, then that may be a good indicator of divorce being a better option.
It is possible for divorce to be clean cut and amicable and it is often best for a couple and their respective lawyers to work out an agreement that is beneficial to everyone involved without including the courts.
However, not every settlement can be decided outside of the legal system. Those struggling with questions about the legal implications of their relationship status, divorce, separation or child custody should utilise the government department links provided below or head to our family law page for more information.