Illinois has taken at least some steps toward joining the growing movement to legalize same-sex marriage, but there’s been another movement growing nationwide: the movement to skip marriage altogether.
Many young Americans saw their own parents go through a painful divorce, saw the often-quoted statistic that half of all marriages end in divorce, and they decided to steer away from the institution. The percentage of Americans who are married has been steadily shrinking and half of all children born in the United States to women under age 30 are now the children of unwed parents.
Unfortunately, many of these couples realize too late that the legal apparatus of divorce is actually a strong argument in favor of marriage.
When married couples split in Illinois, state law demands equitable division of their marital property, so as not to leave one partner at an unfair financial disadvantage. The law may require alimony as well, to give one ex-spouse a chance to get back on his or her financial feet. When an unmarried couple splits, the emotions may be in many ways just as unpleasant as they would be had the couple never wed, but the courts generally can’t demand equitable property division or alimony payments if the couple was never married.
Things get even stranger for unmarried couples who split after having kids. The state will require a noncustodial parent to pay child support to the parent who lives with the kids. That’s true whether the parents were ever married or not. But when the parents were not married, courts may require a paternity test before ordering a noncustodial father to pay child support. Also, child support payments are intended for the child’s reasonable expenses and aren’t supposed to pay for items needed by the parent who lives with the child. Thus, child support doesn’t help a stay-at-home parent whose child-rearing duties make finding employment impossible.
The right to divorce is perhaps the most unromantic argument possible in favor of marriage. But it’s a powerful argument. Those who are weighing the pros and cons of marriage versus cohabitation should think about it. And those going through divorce may find themselves grateful for it.
Source: The New York Observer, “No Divorce Is the New Divorce: Moms and Dads Navigate Messy Breakups in Marriage-less World,” Rose Sunrow, March 19, 2013