Ann Gold Buscho Ph.D.

An Honest Look at the Pros and Cons of Divorce

Consider these topics and how to minimize the negative effects of divorce..

Posted September 27, 2023 | Reviewed by Davia Sills

  • The Challenges of Divorce
  • Find a therapist to heal from a divorce
  • Divorce can cause positive and negative outcomes for both the parents and children involved.
  • Among the pros are greater freedom, room for growth, and an improved environment for children.
  • However, stress and financial challenges can complicate outcomes for the family.

Are you considering divorce? Or has your spouse decided to end the marriage ? Divorce is a complicated and emotional process that can have both positive and negative consequences. Some outcomes are positive for some people but affect others negatively.

Here are some of the pros and cons of divorce.

These are generally considered the pros of divorce:

Freedom and Independence

Pros: Divorce can provide individuals with the freedom and independence to make their own choices and live life on their terms. Don (not his real name) felt that he was in a constant power struggle with his wife. He wanted control over his own life, his environment, and his decisions.

Cons: Some may find this newfound independence overwhelming or lonely , especially if they are accustomed to a long-term partnership. Stuart had grown accustomed to a social life managed by his wife. After the divorce, he withdrew from friendships and struggled with depression .

Escape From Unhealthy Relationships

Pros: Divorce can provide an escape from abusive or toxic relationships, which can lead to improved mental and physical health. Ingrid had lived with an angry husband who frequently berated her in front of other people. She felt she always walked on eggshells to avoid triggering him. After her divorce, she felt liberated and relieved of the chronic stress, and her migraines stopped.

Cons: The divorce process can be emotionally challenging, and most people experience intense emotions during a divorce, such as sadness, anger , guilt , and anxiety . However, these emotions usually subside as you adjust to your new life.

Opportunity for Personal Growth

Pros: Some people view divorce as an opportunity for personal growth and self-discovery, leading to a stronger sense of self and increased self-esteem . Tina told me that she felt she had finally found herself after her divorce. She had spent 20 years trying to be the wife her husband wanted. Now, she felt she could come into her own.

Cons: The emotional toll of divorce can hinder personal growth, at least in the short term. In the early stages of divorce, most people are overwhelmed and operating in “crisis mode.” It may be very hard to imagine what your future will look like. Nevertheless, you can focus on building a life that you will find fulfilling. Be patient; it may take one to two years to fully recover from the divorce.

Improved Financial Situation

Pros: Depending on the circumstances, divorce can lead to improved financial stability and the ability to make independent financial decisions. Clara and her husband argued about money all the time. He felt she bought too many clothes, and she accused him of buying expensive electronics. They could not agree on a budget, so they spent beyond their means every month, unable to save for retirement . Both felt that if they divorced , they could become financially independent and stable.

Cons: Divorce can also result in financial hardships, especially if there are disputes over assets, child support, or alimony. Many people have to reduce their lifestyles when they divorce. The same income now has to support two homes. There may be legal expenses, additional therapy costs, or alimony. Downsizing is frequently the best solution, at least for a few years.

Better Environment for Children

Pros: In cases of high-conflict or abusive marriages, divorce may provide a safer and more stable environment for children. Lee and Ellis argued frequently in front of their children. At times, they yelled at each other and shoved each other around, stopping only when their children begged them to or cried. Children in two stable, calm homes feel safer and more secure.

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Cons: Children may still experience emotional turmoil and adjustment issues during and after a divorce. Children will also experience the loss of the family unit and may have symptoms due to the trauma of witnessing their parents in conflict. It is normal for children to need 1-2 years to adjust to the new family structure.

These are usually considered the cons of divorce:

Emotional and Psychological Stress

Divorce is almost always emotionally and psychologically taxing, leading to stress, depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Some individuals may struggle with these challenges for an extended period, impacting their overall well-being. Some seem to get stuck in their anger or grief after the divorce and can't “move on.” Working with a therapist can help you work through the emotions so that you can rebuild your new life.

Financial Challenges

While some experience improved financial situations, others may face significant financial challenges, including legal fees, dividing assets, and maintaining separate households. The financial burden of divorce can be long-lasting, affecting both spouses and their children. Supporting two homes may be stressful , and your children may be aware that money is tight.

If possible, protect them from the stress or worry that they might pick up from you. Megan, a child I worked with, told me, “There won’t be Christmas presents this year because Mom took all our money.” Megan felt insecure and angry at her mother.

Impact on Children

One of the most common worries parents express is how the divorce will “damage our children.” Divorce can create a more stable and peaceful home environment in some cases, which may be better for children’s well-being. Children often face emotional and psychological challenges during and after divorce, and it can strain parent-child relationships when they are drawn into loyalty binds or assume the roles of ally, messenger, spy, or confidante.

Social Stigma

In some cases, divorce may free individuals from a marriage that wasn’t socially or culturally accepted. Divorce can still carry a social stigma in some communities and cultures, leading to judgment and isolation. While the stigma of divorce has decreased over the past decades, many people still carry an internalized stigma. James said that the voice in his head kept saying, “You’re a failure, you’re a loser, you’ll never be happy, etc.” Remind yourself that it is the marriage that failed, not necessarily that you failed. It helps to understand your contribution to the failure of the marriage so that you can avoid those mistakes in the future.

Legal Process Complexity and Stress

The legal system can provide structure and protection during divorce proceedings. The law is there to protect you if necessary. Navigating the legal system can be time-consuming, expensive, and emotionally draining. However, if you choose an alternate dispute resolution process that keeps you out of court, the divorce will be less stressful. Consider mediation or a collaborative divorce instead.

Whether you are contemplating divorce or your spouse has already made the decision, these topics are worth discussing, perhaps with the help of a therapist. Some of these points may not be relevant to your circumstances, but seek guidance and support if you do decide to divorce. With the help of an experienced divorce coach or therapist, you may be able to reduce some of the negative outcomes.

© Ann Gold Buscho, Ph.D. 2023

Ann Gold Buscho Ph.D.

Ann Gold Buscho, Ph.D. , is the author of The Parent's Guide to Birdnesting: A Child-Centered Solution to Co-Parenting During Separation and Divorce.

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Essay on Legalization Of Divorce In The Philippines

Students are often asked to write an essay on Legalization Of Divorce In The Philippines in their schools and colleges. And if you’re also looking for the same, we have created 100-word, 250-word, and 500-word essays on the topic.

Let’s take a look…

100 Words Essay on Legalization Of Divorce In The Philippines

Understanding divorce.

Divorce means legally ending a marriage. In most countries, people can divorce if their marriage isn’t working. The Philippines is one of the few places without a divorce law. Married couples there can’t easily separate, even if they want to.

The Current Situation

In the Philippines, couples can get an annulment or a legal separation instead of a divorce. An annulment is when the court says a marriage never really existed. Legal separation lets couples live apart without ending the marriage.

Arguments for Legalization

Some people say divorce should be legal in the Philippines. They believe it can help those stuck in unhappy or unsafe marriages. It’s about giving people the freedom to choose what’s best for them.

Opposition to Divorce

Others argue against divorce, worried it might harm family values. They fear it might make ending marriages too easy. The Catholic Church, very influential in the Philippines, also opposes divorce.

Whether or not to legalize divorce in the Philippines is a big debate. It’s about balancing personal freedom with traditional values. The decision will affect the lives of many Filipinos.

250 Words Essay on Legalization Of Divorce In The Philippines

Divorce is when two people who are married decide they want to end their marriage. They go to court, and if the court agrees, they are no longer husband and wife. Many countries allow divorce, but in the Philippines, it is not allowed except for Muslim Filipinos who have their own laws.

Why Some People Want Divorce Legalized

Some people in the Philippines want to change the law to allow divorce. They believe that if two people are very unhappy together, it’s better for them to separate and live happier lives apart. They also think that if someone is in a harmful marriage, they should be able to leave for their safety.

Arguments Against Divorce

Other people think divorce should not be allowed. They feel that marriage is very important and should last forever. They worry that allowing divorce could lead to more families breaking up and could hurt children who need both parents.

What Could Happen If Divorce Is Allowed

If the Philippines decides to allow divorce, it would mean that people who want to end their marriage could do so legally. The government would have to create new laws to explain how divorce would work and to make sure that children and both partners are treated fairly.

In conclusion, the idea of allowing divorce in the Philippines is a big topic with strong opinions on both sides. It’s important for people to talk about it and think carefully about what is best for families and for the country.

500 Words Essay on Legalization Of Divorce In The Philippines

Introduction to divorce in the philippines.

In the Philippines, the topic of divorce is a big deal. Right now, the country does not allow divorce, which means that if two people get married, they cannot legally end their marriage through divorce. This is different from many other countries where divorce is allowed and is a common way to end a marriage that is not working anymore.

What is Divorce?

Divorce is when a husband and wife decide to end their marriage through legal means. It is a way for people to stop being married when they feel that they cannot be together anymore. In places where divorce is allowed, it is a process that the court handles to make sure everything is fair, especially when it comes to taking care of children and sharing property.

Arguments for Legalizing Divorce

Some people in the Philippines want to change the law to allow divorce. They say it is important because sometimes marriages can be really unhappy or even harmful. For example, if one person is being mean or hurting the other, it might be better for them to separate. Allowing divorce could help people leave bad situations and start fresh.

Another reason is that people change over time. What if they find out they are not a good match anymore? Divorce could give them a chance to find happiness with someone else. Also, for those who are separated but not legally divorced, it can be hard to move on with their lives, like getting remarried or even just being able to make big decisions on their own.

Arguments Against Legalizing Divorce

On the other side, some people in the Philippines do not want divorce to be legal. They worry that it might break families apart and could be bad for children. They believe marriage is a promise that should last forever, and facing tough times is part of it. They also think that the current laws, like annulment, which is a way to say the marriage was not valid from the start, are enough to handle situations where a marriage needs to end.

Right now, the Philippines offers annulment and legal separation. Annulment is a long and costly process that says the marriage was never right from the beginning. Legal separation allows couples to live apart and divide their property, but they are still married in the eyes of the law. This means they cannot remarry.

The legalization of divorce in the Philippines is a topic that gets people talking. It has supporters who believe it can help people in bad marriages and opponents who worry about its effects on families. As of now, there is no divorce in the Philippines, but the conversation about it continues. It’s important to think about what is best for people’s happiness and safety when discussing this topic. Whether or not the law will change is something that only time will tell.

That’s it! I hope the essay helped you.

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152 Brilliant Divorce Essay Topics & Examples

For those who are studying law or social sciences, writing about divorce is a common task. Separation is a complicated issue that can arise from many different situations and lead to adverse outcomes. In this article we gathered an ultimate list of topics about divorce and gathered some tips to when working on the paper.

Essays on Divorce

Understanding how to write a divorce essay.

If you're tasked with writing a divorce essay, it's important to start with a clear understanding of the topic. Here are some prompt samples to help you grasp the key aspects:

  • Prompt 1: Analyze the impact of divorce on children's emotional well-being.
  • Prompt 2: Discuss the social and economic consequences of divorce on families.
  • Prompt 3: Explore the reasons behind the rising divorce rates in modern society.
  • Prompt 4: Evaluate the role of divorce in reshaping gender roles and expectations.

Brainstorming and Choosing a Compelling Essay Topic

Now that you have some prompts to work with, it's time to brainstorm and select a captivating essay topic. Consider the following points:

  • Personal Interest: Choose a topic that genuinely interests you, as it will make the writing process more enjoyable.
  • Relevance: Ensure your topic is relevant to the prompt and adds value to the reader's understanding of divorce-related issues.
  • Uniqueness: Avoid common or overused topics. Aim for a fresh perspective or angle that sets your essay apart.
  • Research Potential: Ensure there is enough credible information available to support your chosen topic.

Unique Divorce Essay Topics

Here's a list of unique essay topics that go beyond the ordinary:

  • The Influence of Divorce on Parenting Styles and Child Development
  • The Role of Social Media in Shaping Perceptions of Divorce
  • Exploring the Impact of Divorce on the Mental Health of Seniors
  • Comparing Divorce Laws and Trends in Different Countries
  • The Evolution of Divorce Mediation in Modern Society
  • The Psychological Effects of Divorce on Adolescents
  • The Economic Consequences of Divorce on Single Parents
  • Divorce and Its Effect on Sibling Relationships
  • Divorce and Its Impact on Education and Academic Performance
  • Gender Disparities in the Outcomes of Divorce Proceedings
  • The Role of Counseling and Therapy in Divorce Recovery
  • Divorce Among Celebrity Couples: Media Influence and Public Perception
  • Divorce Rates in the Digital Age: Online Dating and Marriage Dissolution
  • The Influence of Cultural and Religious Factors on Divorce Decisions
  • The Legal and Emotional Challenges of Same-Sex Divorce
  • Divorce and Its Impact on the Workplace: Employee Productivity and Well-being
  • Exploring Divorce in Literature and Film: Themes and Symbolism
  • Divorce in the Age of Pre-nuptial Agreements: Financial Implications
  • The Role of Divorce Support Groups in Coping with Separation
  • The Future of Marriage: Trends and Predictions in Divorce Rates

Paragraph and Phrase Inspiration

When crafting your essay, here are some sample paragraphs and phrases that can inspire your writing:

  • Introduction: "In today's rapidly changing world, the topic of divorce has become increasingly complex, touching various aspects of our lives."
  • Main Body: "One key aspect to consider is the emotional turmoil that children often experience during their parents' divorce. Studies have shown that..."
  • Counterargument: "While some argue that divorce can have positive outcomes for individuals seeking personal growth, it's crucial to acknowledge that..."
  • Conclusion: "In conclusion, divorce is a multifaceted phenomenon with far-reaching consequences that extend beyond the dissolution of a marriage. It is imperative that we continue to research and address the various aspects of divorce to support families in transition."

Now that you have these tips and unique ideas in mind, go ahead and write an engaging divorce essay that stands out! Remember, a well-researched and thoughtfully written essay can make a significant impact.

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Divorce (also known as dissolution of marriage) is the process of terminating a marriage or marital union. Divorce usually entails the canceling or reorganizing of the legal duties and responsibilities of marriage, thus dissolving the bonds of matrimony between a married couple under the rule of law of the particular country or state.

Contested divorce, at-fault divorce, summary divorce, no-fault divorce, uncontested divorce, collaborative divorce, electronic divorce, mediated divorce.

Adultery, extramarital sex, infidelity, domestic violence, midlife crisis, addictions (e.g. alcoholism and gambling), workaholism, and other factors.

Couples who marry in their late 20s may be less likely to divorce. Husbands who don’t work full-time may be more likely to get divorced. Almost 50 percent of all marriages in the United States will end in divorce or separation. Every 13 seconds, there is one divorce in America.

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Essays About Divorce: Top 5 Examples and 7 Prompts

Essays about divorce can be challenging to write; read on to see our top essay examples and writing prompts to help you get started.

Divorce is the legal termination of a marriage. It can be a messy affair, especially if it includes children. Dividing the couple’s assets also often causes chaos when divorce proceedings are in session. 

Divorce also touches and considers religion and tradition. Therefore, laws are formed depending on the country’s history, culture, and belief system.

To help you choose what you want to talk about regarding this topic, here are examples you can read to get an idea of what kind of essay you want to write.

1. Divorce Should Be Legalized in the Philippines by Ernestine Montgomery

2. to divorce or not to divorce by mark ghantous, 3. what if you mess up by manis friedman, 4. divorce: a life-changing experience by writer louie, 5. divorce’s effects on early adult relationships by percy massey, 1. the major reasons for divorce, 2. why i support divorce, 3. my divorce experience, 4. how to avoid divorce, 5. divorce and its effects on my family, 6. the consequences of divorce, 7. divorce laws around the world.

“What we need is a divorce law that defines clearly and unequivocally the grounds and terms for terminating a marriage… Divorce is a choice and we all should have the freedom to make choices… in cases where a union is more harmful than beneficial, a divorce can be benevolent and less hurtful way of severing ties with your partner.”

As the title suggests, Montgomery and his other colleagues discuss why the Philippines, a predominantly Catholic country, needs to allow divorce. Then, to strengthen his argument, he mentions that Spain, the root of Christianity, and Italy, where the Vatican City is, administer divorce. 

He also mentions bills, relevant figures, and statistics to make his case in favor of divorce more compelling. Montgomery adds that people who want a divorce don’t necessarily mean they want to marry again, citing other motives such as abuse and marital failure.

“Divorce, being the final step in a detrimental marriage, brings upon the gruesome decision as to whether a married couple wishes to end that once made commitment they had for each other. As opposed to the present, divorce was rare in ancient times…”

Ghantous starts his essay with what divorce means, as not only an end of a commitment but also the termination of legal duties and other obligations of the couple to each other. He then talks about divorce in ancient times, when men had superior control over women and their children. He also mentions Caroline Norton, who fought with English family law that was clearly against women.

“So even though G‑d has rules,… laws,… divine commandments, when you sin, He tells you: ‘You messed up? Try again.’ That’s exactly how you should be married — by treating your spouse the way G‑d treats you. With that much mercy and compassion, that much kindness and consideration.”

Friedman’s essay discusses how the Torah sees marriage and divorce and explains it by recounting a scene with his daughters where they couldn’t follow a recipe. He includes good treatment and forgiveness necessary in spouses. But he also explains that God understands and doesn’t want people in a failed marriage to continue hurting. You might also be interested in these essays about commitment .

“Depending on the reasons that led up to the divorce the effects can vary… I was fourteen years old and the one child that suffered the most emotional damage… My parents did not discuss their reasons for the divorce with me, they didn’t have to, and I knew the reasons.”

The author starts the essay by citing the famous marital promise: “For better or worse, for richer or poorer,” before going in-depth regarding the divorce rate among Americans. He further expounds on how common divorce is, including its legalities. Although divorce has established legal grounds, it doesn’t consider the emotional trauma it will cause, especially for children.

Louie recounts how his life changed when his dad moved out, listing why his parents divorced. He ends the essay by saying society is at fault for commercializing divorce as if it’s the only option.

“With divorce becoming more prevalent, many researchers have taken it upon themselves to explore many aspects of this topic such as evolving attitudes, what causes divorce, and how it effects the outcome of children’s lives.”

Massey examines the causes of divorce and how it impacts children’s well-being by citing many relevant research studies. Some of the things he mentions are the connection between the child’s mental health, behavioral issues, and future relationships. Another is the trauma a child can endure during the divorce proceedings.

He also mentions that some children who had a broken family put marriage on a pedestal. As a result, they do their best to create a better future family and treat their children better.

Top 7 Prompts on Essays About Divorce

After adding to your knowledge about the subject, you’re better prepared to write essays about divorce.

There are many causes of the dissolution of marriage, and many essays have already discussed these reasons. However, you can explain these reasons differently. For example, you can focus on domestic abuse, constant fighting, infidelity, financial issues, etc.

If you want to make your piece stand out, you can include your personal experience, but only if you’re comfortable sharing your story with others. 

If you believe divorce offers a better life for all parties involved, list these benefits and explain them. Then, you can focus on a specific pro of legalizing divorce, such as getting out of an abusive relationship. 

If you want to write an essay to argue against the negative effects of divorce, here’s an excellent guide on how to write an argumentative essay .

This prompt is not only for anyone who has no or sole guardian. If you want to write about the experiences of a child raised by other people or who lives with a single parent, you can interview a friend or anyone willing to talk about their struggles and triumphs even if they didn’t have a set of parents.

Aside from reasons for divorce, you can talk about what makes these reasons more probable. Then, analyze what steps couples can take to avoid it. Such as taking couples’ therapy, weekly family get-together, etc. To make your essay more valuable, weigh in on what makes these tips effective.

Essays About Divorce: Divorce and its effects on my family

Divorce is diverse and has varying effects. There are many elements to its results, and no two sets of factors are precisely the same for two families. 

If you have an intimate experience of how your immediate and extended family dynamic had been affected by divorce, narrate those affairs. Include what it made you and the others around you feel. You might also be interested in these essays about conflict .

This is a broad prompt, but you can narrow it down by focusing on an experience you or a close friend had. You can also interview someone closely related to a divorce case, such as a lawyer, reporter, or researcher. 

If you don’t have any experience with divorce, do not know anyone who had to go through it, or is more interested in its legal aspects, compiles different divorce laws for each country. You can even add a brief history for each law to make the readers understand how they came about.

Are you looking for other topics to write on? Check out our general resource of essay writing topics .

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Maria Caballero is a freelance writer who has been writing since high school. She believes that to be a writer doesn't only refer to excellent syntax and semantics but also knowing how to weave words together to communicate to any reader effectively.

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The Morality of Getting Divorced

Justin mcbrayer considers when divorce is morally permissable, and when it isn’t..

It’s almost impossible to find someone whose life has not been significantly affected by divorce. Given this, the decision to end a marriage may be one of the most significant moral decisions a person ever makes. So under what conditions is it morally permissible to get a divorce?

To say that something is morally permissible means that there is no moral obligation requiring you to act differently. So getting divorced will be morally permissible only if you can do so while meeting all your moral obligations. So what are the moral obligations that might make ending a marriage morally problematic?

What Makes Marriage Morally Special?

Many ethicists agree that getting married generates special moral obligations that one would not otherwise have. It makes some actions required that would otherwise not be, for example, sacrificing something for your partner’s sake, and makes some actions wrong that would otherwise not be, for example, having sex with a non-partner. But what explains the fact that when two people marry, new moral obligations are created?

Marriage creates moral obligations primarily because it involves promise-making. Promise-making is a way of generating moral obligations – if I promise to pick you up at the airport, then I have taken on a moral obligation to do so. And whatever else a wedding ceremony may be, it is an event during which two people make promises to one another. It follows that getting married is a way of generating new moral obligations.

divorce cake split

Some ethicists resist this line of thought. They insist that marriage promises have no power to create new moral obligations. According to these philosophers, this is because marital vows are promises to feel a certain way or to have certain emotions towards one’s partner, but we have no control over our feelings or emotions, and it makes no sense to say that someone is morally obligated to do something that is beyond her control. Thus, promising to do something the doing of which one cannot control does not result in a new moral obligation.

There are at least two good reasons to reject this analysis. First, it is plausible that in the marriage context we are promising to do things that are in our control or over which we have indirect control. For example, when we get married we pledge to do our best to bring about a certain emotional state, or make an unconditional commitment to another person. Second, and more importantly, anyone who has been to a wedding can see that although there are often emotional components to marital vows, there are obvious behavioral components as well. In fact, most of us see getting married as a promise to do something for our partner. Consider the following wedding vow, taken at random from an online search:

“I, [name], take you, [name], to be my [husband/wife], my constant friend, my faithful partner and my love from this day forward. In the presence of God, our family and friends, I offer you my solemn vow to be your faithful partner in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, and in joy as well as in sorrow. I promise to love you unconditionally, to support you in your goals, to honor and respect you, to laugh with you and cry with you, and to cherish you for as long as we both shall live.”

Notice how heavily this vow focuses on actions compared to emotions: support one’s partner, honor one’s partner, respect one’s partner, and so on. Even the emotional content is easily understood in a behavioral sense: to be a faithful partner in sickness and health clearly has a behavioral component. To see this, imagine the following thought-experiment. Suppose Landon makes the aforementioned promise to Hannah. Suppose next that he feels all the right things toward her (for example, he is in love with her), but that his behavior is wildly erratic – he sleeps around, is verbally abusive to Hannah, abandons her when she is ill, etc. Would anyone be willing to say that Landon has fulfilled his wedding vow? Surely not. This shows that we see wedding vows as promises not simply to feel a certain way, but primarily as promises to act a certain way.

So marital vows do create new moral obligations. Furthermore, we typically think that the strength of the moral obligation generated by making a promise varies with the seriousness of the promise-making, the clarity of the promises made, and the consequences of breaking the promise. Marital promises score high in all three categories. A wedding vow, celebrated with all the pomp and circumstance many people can afford, is one of the most serious promises most people ever make. And although the clarity of wedding vows is not universal, many couples carefully construct the wording of their vows, spending a long time talking through what they are and are not willing to promise one another. Finally, breaking a marriage promise often has devastating effects for numerous people. In all, then, it appears that the marriage promise creates a strong and special obligation between the marriage partners.

Illegitimate Promises

Marriage obligations exist because of promises, then. So in order to determine whether divorce is morally permissible, we need to determine whether it would violate marriage promises.

First, it follows that divorce is morally permissible if marital promises have failed to generate special moral obligations in the first place. We noted that making a promise does usually generate moral duties. However, not all promises generate obligations. In particular, promises generate new obligations only when the person making the promise is autonomous , and informed, and does so willingly. Otherwise, the promise is morally illegitimate. We might say that it is not a real promise.

Sometimes a partner is coerced into marriage. Such coercion affects the condition that the marriage promise be made willingly . When angry parents force a scared pregnant girl to marry the father of her unborn child, it is implausible that either she or he does so entirely willingly. Alternatively, a marriage partner might be too young, too mentally undeveloped, or otherwise incompetent to make a morally binding pledge such as is required for a true marriage promise. In such cases, the promises are not made by a fully autonomous agent. When a thirteen-year-old girl marries a much older man, as is common in some cultures, it is implausible that she is emotionally and intellectually developed enough to give fully autonomous consent to the kind of promise made between partners in a marriage. Finally, a marriage partner might have been too ignorant of the situation or nature of the other partner, or even blatantly deceived by them. In such a case, the promise is not made by a suitably informed agent. For instance, when a girl deceives her partner about the fact that she is HIV positive, such deception annuls their marital promises.

In all of these cases, the marital promises are illegitimate, and hence they create no special moral duties between the partners. And if there are no such special moral duties, then it is morally permissible to sever the relationship through divorce.

Bilateral Divorce

divorce not speaking

If I promise to pick you up from the airport, but you find another ride, you may release me from my promise. Just as making a legitimate promise creates an obligation, releasing someone from a promise eliminates an obligation. Thus, one straightforward way for divorce to be morally permissible would be for both partners to release the other from their respective marital promises. Call that a ‘bilateral’ divorce – a divorce by mutual consent.

You might think that even if the two partners agree to end a marriage, it is still wrong to do so if their promises were made before God. However, a promise before someone is different than a promise to someone. A promise made before you makes you a witness, whereas a promise made to you makes you a beneficiary. You don’t have to get God’s permission in a case where He is not the beneficiary.

It is important to note two more things. First, even though a bilateral divorce is typically morally permissible – in other words, it is morally permissible all other things being equal – sometimes all other things are not equal. An obvious example of this kind of case involves families with children. Parents have moral obligations to their children as well as to each other. Insofar as these obligations require that parents refrain from doing what is bad for their children, and insofar as divorce is bad for children, then other factors notwithstanding, these same parental obligations require that parents refrain from getting a divorce, at least while the children are young enough to suffer harm from it.

Second, many people are troubled by apparently cavalier divorces. Hollywood stars who get married apparently on a whim and divorced six months later provide typical examples. These cases appear to be cases of bilateral divorce, and hence they are to that extent morally permissible. So what do we find so troubling about them? My suggestion is that there seems something amiss with the moral character of people who behave in this sort of way. What they do may, strictly speaking, be morally permissible, but the apparent attitude behind it reveals a moral vice: that they are quick to make promises that they are unable or unwilling to keep. People who casually make and abandon marital promises are not, morally speaking, the kind of people we want to be. This is not moral behaviour in the wider application of the term.

Divorce When A Partner Cannot Fulfill Their Duties

Moral philosophers often say that ought implies can. What they mean is that if you really ought to do something, this implies you must be able to do that thing. In other words, it is conceptually confused to say of someone that he ought to do something if it is impossible for him to do it. This principle is relevant to divorce in the following way: if you become unable to do what you have promised to do, then you cannot have a moral obligation to do that thing. And hence divorce will be morally permissible any time one of the partners is literally unable to keep the marital promise. However, determining whether a divorce is permissible for this reason requires being clear about what marital promises are about.

In many cases, marital promises are about goals over which we have indirect control. Two plausible candidates for the goals that marital promises are aimed at are: (A) the goal of fostering a loving relationship between the partners, and (B) the long-term goal of making a partner’s life better.

Suppose that these are both plausible candidates for what we are pledging when we get married. If the goal is (B), we have the following interesting result: when staying together does not make your partner’s life better, in the long run, then your marital promises do not obligate you to stay together. For example, suppose one of the partners becomes involved in an extramarital affair, and that she and her lover are happy building their lives together. In this case, it is morally permissible for the other partner to initiate a divorce on the grounds that his promise to his partner was aimed at making her life better and he is unable to do so given the current situation. Because he cannot do so, he has no moral obligation to do so. Thus, in this sort of circumstance it may be morally permissible to formally mutually end the relationship.

Unilateral Divorce

A ‘unilateral’ divorce happens when only one of the partners desires the dissolution of the marriage. Since promises produce moral obligations, the obligations from marital promises make it morally wrong to seek a unilateral divorce in many cases. Consider the case of a man who wants to divorce his wife on the grounds that she has been recently diagnosed with a chronic degenerative disease. This is not a morally permissable ground for divorce. In particular, neither non-reciprocation nor the lack of happiness of one of the partners justifies unilateral divorce.

Many people who divorce cite the fact that their partners did not reciprocate in certain ways as justification for the divorce. Their partners weren’t ‘doing their part’ in the relationship. Whether this counts as a morally adequate reason to get a divorce depends on whether the marriage promises were unconditional or conditional, and the nature of the conditions. Take, for instance, the promise to be sexually faithful to one’s partner. On an unconditional reading, this promise says, ‘No matter what happens, I promise to be sexually faithful to you’. However, on a conditional reading, the promise might say, ‘I will be sexually faithful to you so long as you are sexually faithful to me’. On the unconditional reading, one has a moral reason to be sexually faithful to one’s partner regardless of what he or she has done. On the conditional reading, one has a moral reason to be sexually faithful to one’s partner if and only if he or she has also been sexually faithful. Generally, if marital promises are conditional, then the non-reciprocation of a partner in such a way would cancel out the moral obligation generated, and hence a divorce would be morally permissible. But if marital promises are unconditional, then the non-reciprocation of a partner is morally irrelevant, and hence a divorce would be morally impermissible.

Does happiness, or the lack of it, count as a valid condition for divorce?

Regarding the (supposed) right to be happy, many people cite their ongoing unhappiness as the justification for their divorce. The idea is that if it becomes impossible for a person to be genuinely happy while married to their partner, it is morally permissible for them to divorce that partner.

divorce child cartoon

Two things should be noted in response to this line of thought. First, a right to be happy is at best a negative right: it is at best the right to pursue happiness as long as you can do so without violating the rights of others. But this sort of right doesn’t mean that a divorce is morally permissible, even if it is true that one cannot be happy without a divorce. Compare this with the negative right to own a car (that is, the right to take steps to own a car as long as you can do so without violating the rights of others). This right doesn’t mean that stealing a car is morally permissible, even if it is true that you cannot get one without stealing it. The crucial issue in both cases is whether the action in question would violate a moral obligation, and in both cases it would: breaking a marital promise in the first case, and the obligation not to steal in the second. Second, we don’t ordinarily think that one can get out of a promise, like any other sort of contract, simply because performance of the promise or contract will cause one unhappiness. Consider a standard commercial contract: one business cannot renege on a contract with another business even if doing so would be crucial for the profits or success of the first business. Or suppose I promise to pick you up from the airport, but on the appointed day realize that I would be happier doing other things. This does not mean that I no longer have a moral obligation to pick you up from the airport. By the same reasoning, one’s happiness, or lack of it, does not on its own make breaking a marital promise morally permissable.

Thoughts To Take Away

Many divorces are morally permissible. These include cases in which the marriage promise was illegitimate, scenarios in which one of the partners is unable to fulfill the promises, and considered bilateral divorce. But many divorces are also morally wrong, including those in which the partners have other obligations that require them to stay together, at least for a time, and unilateral divorces in which one partner’s non-reciprocation or one’s right to be happy is cited as the sole reason for the divorce.

There are two take-away thoughts. First, we should be very careful with the promises that we make to our marriage partner on our wedding day. These promises ground special moral obligations, and yet they are all too often vague, unclear, or impossible to fulfill. Partners entering into a marriage should have explicit conversations about their expectations for the future, the promises they are willing to make to one another, and the unconditional or conditional nature of such promises. Second, we should also be very careful about the decision to get a divorce. Whether a divorce is morally permissible depends on a great many things, including the content of the promises made between the partners.Merely citing a right to be happy does not dissolve the moral obligations we have in other areas of life. Nor does it on its own obviate the moral obligation we have to stick with a spouse when doing so makes us unhappy.

© Dr Justin P. McBrayer 2017

Justin McBrayer is a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Innsbruck and Associate Professor of Philosophy at Fort Lewis College, the liberal arts college for the state of Colorado.

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