Marriage is legally recognized as the union of two people becoming partners in a relationship. When done correctly, marriage is about love, emotion, and building a legacy with your partner and best friend. However, over the years the definition and sanctity of the union has gone through many changes.
Marriage has seen wavering changes in the aspect of perseverance, specifically the “until death do us part” portion of the vows. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the divorce rate was close to 70% percent nationwide. But some couples managed to find the flowers amongst the weeds. Married in 1984, my parents have the fairy tale relationship that most people dream about. I mean how many couples do you know that dated throughout middle, high school, and college? Then after college, married and have remained married for thirty plus years with three kids and two grandchildren to show for it? So believe me when I say I am blessed to have them as an example since the data nationwide suggested that the millennial generation barely had a 50-50 chance of achieving the relationship my parents share.
However, it seems as though someone, somewhere decided enough was enough. Currently, the divorce rates are on the decline, getting sexier and sexier, touting numbers closer to 45% nationwide.
But…what does that really mean? As stated earlier, marriage has gone through several changes. Back then, marriage for life was the thing to do, but nowadays, “we aren’t buying the cow because we are getting the milk for free,” as my mother would say. Cohabitation has increased, as marriage has become a well thought-out process. People want an easy out when things go sour without all the legal ramifications. As we become more entitled as a society, we are less likely to compromise in our marriage. There is a demand to have things exactly as we want, requiring customization….
As a family lawyer I have been a part of many divorce settlements and have learned several reasons that lead to the demise of marriages. These reasons have caused me to think about how our attitudes towards marriage have changed throughout the years. An easy analogy to illustrate this change…fast food chains. Confused? Well, let me explain.
The McDonald’s era:
McDonald’s is one of the oldest and the most popular of the food chains. As a result, many people went to McDonalds due to a lack of other options since its’ opening. How was or is marriage like McDonalds?
Marriage was once regarded like a number one combo at McDonalds. If you were hungry, you went and got the combo. Dislike pickles, yet you see them on your burger? You would take them off yourself. Would you rather your Coke not have ice? Eh, you dealt with the ice and drank it anyway. As other fast food chains appeared, they aspired to be like McDonalds. As stated above, marriage was the thing to do; it was what you aspired to have and you took the good with the bad. Most women were defined by their “relationship status.” In this era, you were married and then had children. Even if it’s not fully what you wanted, you dealt with it because that’s what marriage meant. Marriage was a business transaction; it consisted of a breadwinner and a homemaker, the person who cared for the children and the home. In fact, the age for marriage was significantly lower than present day data suggest. The average age of marrying couples were 20 and 23 for women and men respectively. The lower age suggest that many married for a “breadwinner” or “homemaker,” not for love.
Burger King Era:
Shortly after the McDonald’s era, we came upon the Burger King era. You probably already guessed it; at Burger King you can “have it your way.” It was quite similar to the McDonald’s era; you drove up to pick up your burger and fries. But at this particular time couples started realizing I don’t have to pick off my own pickles or go without bacon. I deserve my burger, marriage being the burger, customized exactly how I want it. I would even state that it was during this era that the divorce rate began to skyrocket. Around the feminist moment, women all around realized that marriage was not the only way to gain financial freedom and to obtain life goals. During this era, divorce rates leaped up to 60%-70%. Life became more about individuals; “what I can get for myself as oppose to what a marriage might give me.” If I don’t like what is being offered, I can leave and customize my burger (marriage) or even live elsewhere.
Here, you don’t have a burger nor do you have a drive thru line. It can be argued that Chipotle is not technically fast food but yet for this current generation it is the one of the most popular places to eat. What makes this chain so attractive is the ease. You make my meal from start to bottom. You don’t have to worry about taking anything off; it will not be in my meal unless you put it in there. You choose Chipotle because it isn’t limited to a burger. You can make a burrito, taco, burrito bowl, or simply chips and salsa; the options are your own. One feature that I particularly love is the ability to get a sample serving of the tofu or salsa to see if you like it before putting it on your meal. I, as part of the millennial generation, have fully embraced the concept of ‘customizing my meal to my own preferences.’
Currently we are still in the Chipotle era. I present my evidence here, you decide.
Now, couples do not feel the pressured to get married. Marriage rates are significantly lower. That’s not to say that people aren’t in love anymore; on the contrary, couples are taking their time before saying “I do.” We aren’t getting married simply because we need dual incomes or a warm body next to us at night. In fact, more couples are living together outside of wedlock. It ‘s no secret that money is the number one reason for divorce; therefore, couples experiment with joint savings and checking accounts. Couples are perplexing grandmothers all around by dating longer than ever before. Surely I am not the only whose heard their grandmother ask, with a hint of exasperation,“ when are you going to marry her already?”
In 2004, the average age of marrying couples was 26 and 27 for women and men respectively. These older ages for marrying couples would seem to suggest they are more mature. As social norms progressed, shotgun weddings aren’t necessary, thus contributing to the lower divorce rates.
As an alternative to marriage, couples come into my office to obtain written arrangements. It can equate to a legal couple’s contract. The arrangements may define certain provisions that a couple would like to make legally binding. For example, a couple living together might make provisions for the house upon separation or the 401k accounts. Everything is built to custom fit, making love an easier pill to swallow.
Legally, this new way of thinking seems to be very safe. A divorce not only cost money in legal fees but in North Carolina each party is subject to losing half of the assets acquired during marriage. Let’s not forget the children born of the marriage that could possibility have a negative impact from two parents splitting. With custom unions and custom relations, divorces and separations look completely different. Handling divorces now, I typically draft separation agreements that are the product of negotiations and not three-day court trials.
The purpose of relations and relationships are changing, progressing. As a result, the divorce rate is lowering. Couples who get divorce do so on their own time on their own terms, often avoiding legal and financial agony. Our generation has become free from the stigmas that pushed us into marriage for the wrong reason and now we began to marry soul mates for love, go figure!