I was astonished to learn last night that New York State does not have no-fault divorces.
If the columnists at Freakonomics are to be believed, a switch to no-fault divorce benefits neither the "monied" nor the "un-monied" spouse; it does not significantly alter the divorce rate (in the long run); it does not even necessarily mean divorces are faster or cheaper. It does reduce domestic violence, it does encourage women (whether married, single, or divorced) to work outside the home, and financially it tends to favor the party who wants out of the marriage most. I translate that last concept to mean "the party who first filed for divorce."
If New York becomes the fiftieth state to permit unilateral or no-fault divorces, this will be a good thing to my way of thinking. Indeed, I'm kind of shocked that New York is the last holdout; I'd have thought that it would have been a deeply religious and socially conservative state, likely in the South. But no, it's New York, which just goes to show you that assumptions are not always borne out by reality.
Watching old movies or TV shows and hearing dialogue about how one separated spouse "will not grant" a divorce to the other one who wants out seems bizarrely antiquated. If he or she wants out, he or she wants out. It may suck if you don't want to divorce, but the simple fact that if your spouse wants out, it means that the marriage is over. You have to both want to be married to be married.
Because that's the real rub with no-fault divorce -- if it becomes easy for one spouse to leave a marriage if he or she is unhappy with it, that creates a powerful incentive for married people who do not want to be divorced to make sure that their spouse is happy within the marriage. If you think marriage should be about mutual love, respect, teamwork, and happiness, then you should be in favor of no-fault divorce.
Those people who would use the law to make it difficult for people to divorce would create a disincentive to marry. If it is expensive, time-consuming, and humiliating to get a divorce, then I might choose to forego marriage altogether and just "shack up" informally with my chosen partner. So much for the sanctity of marriage.
People should marry if they want to, they should marry who they want to, with the rules for the marriage that they want to adopt, and they should un-marry if they want to. Marriage is an intensely personal decision that has as much to do with personal happiness and how you want to live your life as it does with finances and taxes, and the government should be as little involved in the process as possible and apply its rules uniformly and fairly to the extent that it must be involved.
If the government got out of the marriage business entirely, that would actually suit me just fine.