THE BLOG

Family Regulation -- Good or Bad?

The real question is this: if we are willing not to interfere in the daily lives of those who end up staying in a marriage-happily or not, should we be interfering in the lives of those that choose to divorce?
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Couples A and B each have two children. Couple A has been married for ten years. Couple B has also been married for ten years. One of the partners in each of these couples earns the same amount of money. The other partner in each couple also earn the same amount of money, which is about one-fourth of that amount. The higher earning partner in each of these couples is a very controlling person. That partner decides how much money is spent by the family and how much is saved. These include such decisions as whether the children can attend certain extracurricular activities or camp, how much the other partner can spend on clothes and personal effects and what is done with savings. If the children want something that the higher earner won't provide, they either don't get it or the lower earning spouse uses what the person has available to try and provide it.

Couple A separates, couple B does not. When Couple A separate, the higher-earning controlling spouse loses a significant amount of that control. The similarly-situated spouse in Couple B never loses that control.

Couple A ends up in the family court system. The court now tells the higher earning partner how much money must be provided to the other partner each month. The court tells that partner what expenses must be paid for the children. In addition, the court also tells both partners who will have the children when.

Over the ensuing 5 years both couples have disagreements over their children. They cannot agree on what school to send the children to, or whether one of the children has special needs which must be provided for. The court tells Couple A where the children will attend school, and what the higher-earning parent in Couple A has to pay for in terms of those needs. In Couple B, the controlling spouse decides where the children attend school and what will provided to the special needs child. For Couple A., the lower earner gets a set amount of money each month for an indefinite time period for the next 7 years. For Couple B, the lower earning spouse only gets what the higher earner is willing to provide which isn't much. The high earner in Couple B spends most of his earnings on himself.

Which couple has the better outcome? One could argue that lower earner from Couple A ended up with the better deal. That individual now has a monthly allowance not previously available, and is not subject to the control of the other spouse. On the other hand, no one is interfering in Couple B's domestic life. While the weaker partner may not be getting the same deal as the weaker partner in Couple A, does that really matter? And with regard to the couple that did get divorced, is it appropriate that their lives are regulated in this way? Are we discriminating against divorcing partners by regulating aspects of their lives that are not regulated for anyone else? Are fewer people marrying these days because they do not want to end up subject to such regulation?

There are no right answers to these questions. They are set forth for the purposes of making us think. The real question is this: if we are willing not to interfere in the daily lives of those who end up staying in a marriage-happily or not, should we be interfering in the lives of those that choose to divorce? Or, should our laws be reformed to provide actual protection when it is needed such as in cases of domestic violence or to prevent children from going without financial support, but not go beyond that. Why is it socially acceptable for the children in Couple B's family to be denied what they need because the parents stayed together, while the children in Couple A's family get what they need because the parents got divorced? And conversely why is it acceptable for the higher earner in Couple B to keep the bulk of what has been earned, while we are requiring the higher earner in Couple A to pay a percentage of income to the other spouse?