In the monogamous countries of the West, marriage has for many centuries been regarded as a permanent contract binding the couple together until death. Most of the Christian Churches are very rigid in their views on the indissolubility of marriage and consider that it is a sacrament and that it offends God’s laws for it to be broken.
There is another large body of opinion in Western countries, which considers that marriage is a man-made contract only, without spiritual significance. This being so, they argue there is no reason why the marriage contract should not be broken whenever it is convenient.
It is because of these diametrically opposed opinions that the divorce laws have never been clearly defined. Indeed they have seesawed between the two. In Roman Law (from which much of the Western legal system originates), divorce was easy. it could be obtained at the wish of either one or both of the parties. In Mediaeval times, divorce was forbidden and a marriage could only be ended by an annulment. By the eighteenth century, the law had again changed and divorce could only be obtained by an Act of Parliament.
Today, despite the efforts of men such as Sir Allen Herbert and Lord Gossell who have constantly urged that the law should be relaxed, ‘Quick divorce’ either in Britain or in America is not easy. To obtain one is both a costly and lengthy business during which the case must be taken to ‘High Court’.
There are social as well as religious arguments against divorce. An easier divorce law can, say its opponents, make for a slacker attitude to marriage so that the moment things go wrong, the couple will ‘down tools’ and seek escape through the Divorce court. they will not try to mend the marriage and so the divorce laws mean that unhappy married couples are condemned to live in a hell-upon-earth from which there is no escape and it is here that the children suffer.
The question of children is a very important one. A marriage should be kept intact whether it is happy or not for the sake of the children, say the people who are opposed to divorce. A child must have both its parents. on the whole, however, such evidence as it is possible to obtain, seems to suggest that children brought up in an unhappy home are far worse off than children of divorced parents who are brought up peacefully be one parent and can see the other from time to time.
Figures and statistics are invariably misleading. Now that the divorce laws in England are much less rigid than they were a hundred years ago, the rate of divorce has in fact risen. But before drawing the obvious conclusion, it must be remembered that a hundred years ago. (when the mortality rate was high) many marriages ended in death that might have come before the courts today and also that women of those days, completely subservient as they were to men, could not seek divorce and therefore endured untold misery which, for today’s emancipated women, would be unthinkable.
The ideal, of course, is for all marriages, everywhere, to be happy but, of course, they are not. Many people marry too young to know what they are doing. Others are completely incompatible. For others, shortage of money, bad living conditions, latent insanity and many things drive all hope of happiness away. the law, therefore, in monogamous countries will have to be relaxed.
On the brighter side, it must be remembered that, in a recent survey in Britain, it was found that over 95% of marriages stayed intact and therefore, it is only a very small minority that is involved. Nevertheless, minorities have their importance and a right minded attitude to the problem seems to be summed up in the words of the Royal Commission on Divorce :-
‘No law should be so harsh as to lead to common disregard of it and no law should be so lax as to lessen regard for the sanctity or marriage.’