Does Making Divorce Easier Protect Marriage?

Jun 15, 2011

I recently had a conversation with a Collaborative Divorce attorney in Rome, Italy (the internet is an amazing thing).  He told me that in Italy, a couple has to wait 5 years before a court will grant a divorce. 


I was stunned, as even the longest “cooling off” periods in the United States are not that long. 


He indicated that this lengthy waiting period might be having an interesting effect on marriage rates in Italy.  He felt strongly that the lengthy waiting period was actually driving the marriage rate down.  He observed that young people in Italy were more reluctant to get married because it was so hard to get out of the marriage if it went poorly.  He even indicated that this was a factor in a falling birth rate in Italy (apparently Italians are less inclined towards single parenthood than Americans).


In the Southern United States, and North Carolina particularly, laws are designed to protect and promote marriage.  North Carolina requires a one-year separation period before either party can even ask a court for a divorce.  Ostensibly, this is to prevent people from making hasty decisions about divorce.  The thinking is this: “If we make it hard to get divorced, then less people will get divorced.”


The Italian situation presents an interesting question though:  At what point do the lawmakers’ efforts to protect marriage actually start backfiring?  Is it possible that people in this country or this state are less inclined to marry because divorce is so hard?  Is it possible that our divorce laws are actually driving down the marriage rate, instead of driving down the divorce rate? 


I am not aware of any scientific research on this topic.  But, it presents an interesting policy debate.  Perhaps marriage as an institution is best served by making divorce easier, instead of harder.

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