All’s Fair in Love and Divorce

There are some fascinating posts that Iíd like to bring to your attention. The first one is to be found at Glennís. He discusses a book where a woman successfully disguised herself as a man in order to gain insights into how the other side lives. One passage that made an impressions was where the author entered the dating world, only to find that many women were distrustful and downright hostile to any man because they had been through failed relationships where a man had treated them badly.

Glenn links to a post at Dr. Helenís, his wifeís blog. The good doctor was surprised to find that many men are shunning marriage, fearing jail due to false accusations about being an abuser if the relationship goes sour and a divorce is necessary.

Dr. Helen links to this essay on a blog called DADvocate. The author discusses why he and many other men are no longer interested in marriage. The potential penalties are too severe, while most women donít bring enough to the table to make it worthwhile.

The posts are all interesting. Click on the links and give them a read. But what I want to talk about are the claims that men are risking jail time every time they tie the knot.

We as a society are keenly interested in protecting those that cannot defend themselves, and the base assumption is that women are less able to do that then men are. When new laws are passed to increase the penalties for domestic violence, or to redefine DV so that it covers a broader range of situations, it is justified as a measure to protect females that stand helpless before male aggression. Most of these measures are heavily supported by various womenís rights groups.

At one time this was very necessary. Women in most states were barred from testifying against their husbands, which meant that kicking the little woman around was a crime that carried no penalties. Divorce carried such a stigma that it was extremely difficult to legally leave a marriage, and it was easier for a man to get divorced then it was for a woman. It was almost ensured that abused wives would be forced to continue living in a physically dangerous environment.

But times change. Divorce is much easier than it was in the past, and in my experience the courts favor the female when a marriage is dissolved. (More about that below.) While some states still have a legal privilege between husband and wife, that usually means that neither can be “compelled” to testify against the other, or to reveal any ďmarital confidenceĒ. This can no longer be seen as something that will prevent law enforcement or the courts from getting involved if there is actual physical abuse.

There are a few reasons why I wouldnít mind seeing some of the harsher domestic violence laws struck from the books. The most compelling is that Iím a big fan of equality. We have penalties for assault, why should the penalties be greater if the victim is living with the perp? That doesnít seem very fair to me.

Another problem is that most DV laws are weighted so the male is always considered to be guilty. Itís true that males are more likely to be the one to offer violence, but itís wrong to automatically assume that they are the one who raised their hand. Iím sure that all of our Liberal readers will join me in condemning these blatant examples of sexual profiling.

The last reason why I wouldnít mind seeing this trend reversed concerns my experiences with my self defense charity. There have been more than a few times when Iíve been approached by women who claimed that they were on the run from violent husbands. They had sworn out complaints against the men, gotten restraining orders issued by the courts, and were in the middle of divorce proceedings. The only problem is that I could tell by the way they were acting that they had never been the victim of violence.

Our society has erred on the side of caution to the point where it is just too easy to abuse the system. Claims of abuse are used by many women to gain a greater bargaining position during a divorce, and the burden of proof then falls upon the accused to defend themselves from these charges.

This is extremely repugnant behavior, and it appears to be rather prevalent. Everyone involved in helping victims of violence has limited resources, myself included. It is unlikely that an experienced and cynical old fellow such as myself will be taken in, but if it ever does happen then Iíd be wasting time and money that could be better spent on those who are actually at risk instead of on someone who is trying to get a bigger alimony check. Unfortunately, few people are as cynical or experienced as I am when it comes to this sort of thing.

This situation is fixable. The burden of proof in domestic violence disputes can be shifted to the accuser instead of the accused, courts can revise their policy of issuing restraining orders so they are more difficult to get, and judges can refuse to allow claims of abuse unless there is compelling reason to believe that the abuse actually occurred. For some reason Iím not holding my breath until this happens, though.

12 thoughts on “All’s Fair in Love and Divorce”

  1. There is a lot of lip service on this one. When push comes to shove, a lot of women stand by their man.

    See Hillary Clinton

    For every guy that does time and that we see in the press, there are many that do not.

  2. The comments at Dr. Helen are long and demonstrate many different perspectives. Those with long marriages, though, almost always say it has been hard work and they have not always liked each other. This doesn’t mean they aren’t happy – life just isn’t easy.

    The loneliness and anger of some of the men is sad.

    That some of our current laws ignore biology is another current. Several commentors discuss whether a man should be considered the father of a child that is not biologically his. Some argue the child deserves a father; others that the man deserves the truth. Others talk about difficulties in visitation. Well, if you can’t “imprint” your child with your own values or your genes are not being passed down, a man is less likely to cheerfully send the checks. A good man may choose to act as a father – but it should hardly be something the wife or society should expect of him.

    While men are more successful in their abuse, the percentage of women who abuse their husbands isn’t all that much lower. We are back to the “society protecting the vulnerable” argument, but some of these men see themselves as the vulnerable. The law is powerful and if it is weighted too heavily, the vulnerability does shift.

    My business experience (not my personal one) saw several parties to divorces charging what appeared to me to be trumped up charges of sexual molestation by the father. These charges arose because divorce does not bring out the best in us and we tend to think the worst of our opponent, but it was prompted by phony statistics. The number of fathers who sexually abuse their biological daughters is quite small (a fraction of a percent); the tendency to blur step-father, live-in-boyfriend, casual date, and biological father as all “men” and “father figures” ended up with some quite misleading statistics at the height of the women’s movement.

    I suspect few women were charged with such endangerment, although the child was in a much more dangerous situation with their mother’s live-in boyfriend than with their biological father. (For quite reasonable biological if not socially acceptable reasons.)

    Something else I found interesting was in what are now well over a hundred comments on marriage and men, searching for “gay” or “homosexual” brought up no hits. These comments about the difficulty and duties of marriage, the importance of children to the equation, etc. demonstrate a lot of people have an idea of marriage that is not that of a right nor of romance, but rather of long years of duty and commitment, responsibility for the other and the children.

  3. To anon:

    I’m afraid that I don’t see your point. So what if a lot of women “stand by their man”? What does that have to do with the women who lie about abuse in order to get a better deal from the divorce?

    For every guy that does time and that we see in the press, there are many that do not.

    I’m still having trouble figuring out what this has to do with anything.

    I used to have a job in law enforcement. The first rule is to never condemn without evidence. Do you have any statistics about abusers who are never caught?

    Of course not. If they had been counted then they must have been prosecuted, and if they had been prosecuted then they had been caught.


  4. Whether it is filling out a false report of abuse, making false claims of child molestation in a divorce, or making false claim of fatherhood, the fundamental problem is ‘bearing false witness’. The penalty for the lie is never as great as the penalty for the claim. It undermines the entire system, both social and legal. It is there that the system fails for all of us. As we ratch up penalties for actual offenses, it should have also been accompanied by similar and exercised penalties for making false claims thereof. It should never be treated as ‘a joke’ or an emotional outburst and rendered rationalized and unpunished.

  5. I am not sure if it really effects the marriage rate but I do think that men perceive a severe biases against them in the legal system, sometimes with good reason. As Don pointed out, there is an immense gulf between the ease of making allegations of violence or misconduct and the consequences of making false statements. The impact of such an allegation on another individuals life can be enormous even if nothing is ever proven.

    An anecdote: In college I worked for a small security company that specialized in providing security for sorority houses. The owner had built the company from scratch bootstrapping himself up from being a security guard himself. He made himself successful by basically being on call 24/7 for five straight years. He made a niche for his company by being focused on the needs of sororities and by being completely trustworthy.

    Once he got into a severe argument with his girlfriend (about him working to much, ironically) and she threatened to make a false accusation of rape that she knew would destroy his business. He told me later that the thought stopped him cold. This women could, with a phone call utterly destroy everything he had built. If such an allegation became public, even if he was never even charged, his customers would feel compelled to hire another firm just to be safe. Worse, the woman would almost certainly face absolutely no sanction if she made the accusation and then retracted it and she knew it.

    I am dubious that this dynamic influences marriage rates because the same legal imbalance places boyfriends in as much danger as husbands.

  6. “I am dubious that this dynamic influences marriage rates because the same legal imbalance places boyfriends in as much danger as husbands. ”

    Not quite. A girlfriend can of course throw around the false rape accusations, but a wife who considers that beyond the pale can still help herself to lots of his money and cut him off from his children if she plays her cards right.

    And people usually become boyfriends before they become husbands. Anything that discourages him from being in a committed relationship will also discourage marriage.

    And how would the state distinguish a false rape accusation from a real rape anyway? There’s often no damning physical evidence (it could be rape, or consensual sex, assuming that no injury is found), there might not have even been force used if the threat of force was sufficient, and there’s almost never any corroborating witnesses. All that’s left is the credibility of the alleged victim and alleged perpetrator.

    There’s no good options. The state can prosecute only if he actually used force and she resisted (which would produce tell-tale injuries on both parties), or the state can tell women that if they don’t follow some extremely restrictive rules about leaving their homes or interacting with men then they’re on their own (and they’re also on their own if the people sharing those homes attack them), or the state can put spy-cameras everywhere, or the state can try to determine which of the two parties is more believable and get it wrong both ways with depressing regularity. Our culture has tried all of these approaches (except the spy cameras everywhere, which has its own serious drawbacks), and none have proved satisfactory.

    The only way out that I can see (short of a government that can be trusted over the long term with spy cameras) is the development of a reliable lie-detector test.

  7. I don’t know much about lie detectors but since some of these are problems of perception, would the lie detector be reliable?

    Of course, we always come back to the importance of internalized values. All of us won’t be socialized, of course, but expecting the law (and state) to judge such acts is asking for not just a pervasive state but injustice.

    I’m afraid the more we rely on the state for judgments on these, the less we rely on such internalized values and on peer pressure. They are both much more effective.

  8. The only way out that I can see (short of a government that can be trusted over the long term with spy cameras) is the development of a reliable lie-detector test.

    IMO the best way to evaluate a prospective partner in marriage or business is to spend several years with that person in a wide variety of situations. I don’t think there are any good substitutes for such experience.

  9. I’m less interested in the start of a relationship than in what happens when it comes apart.

    (After all, my efforts concern preventing actual physical harm. Whether or not someone is happy or sucessful in finding romance is something I couldn’t care less about.)

    The way I see it, there are some very serious advantages if a woman should claim abuse during a divorce. Money, revenge, legal advantage. The courts err on the side of caution and have a lower standard of proof for these claims then they should. And, as has been pointed out, there is no apparent downside to making a false claim.

    The solution is easy enough. Increase the minimum standard of proof before claims of physical abuse are accepted. Physical injury, a history of police reports, things like that. Just having a woman say that she was kicked around shouldn’t do it.

    Critics of this idea claim that it would increase violence against women because the courts won’t move to protect them during a divorce. But, as has also been pointed out, restraining orders and other pieces of paper don’t do much to stop an enraged attacker. We also have the problem that an innocent man will have a severe impact on his life.


  10. I don’t really see how this is different than anything. There’s always the possibility that someone can lie and screw you over really bad in any type of relatioship at all. The system works when people play fair. For the most part people do play surprisingly fair. As Jonathan points out in types of relationships where an individual can be extremely vulnerable (marriage, business partnerships, etc.) you play safe by getting to know the person over an extended period of time. Sure even with this protection you can still get screwed. Even with Ken’s “reliable lie-detector test” you can have your life ruined by a nasty person. Even if you are a man who takes the precaution of never getting married a someone could ruin your life with a false accusation. Even going into business with your childhood best friend they could steal all the money owed to you, etc. etc. blah, blah, blah.

  11. I don’t really see how this is different than anything. There’s always the possibility that someone can lie and screw you over really bad in any type of relatioship at all.

    The difference is that the law assumes innocent-until-proven when someone is accused of a crime, unless they are a man going through a divorce.


  12. Chel,

    The differences is that, say in business, the legal system has no systemic bias built into it. Each participant in a contract can expect to be treated impartially by the legal system. Many people no longer believe this to be the case in family law.

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