Will I be convinced that no-fault divorce is good actually by the end of 2023?
resolved Jan 21

I currently believe no-fault divorce is bad because (content warning: right-coded language) it destroys the sanctity of marriage, because any wife can just decide "I want a hotter/richer/higher status husband" at any time, and dump her husband - and of course, husbands can do the same, and the same goes for same-sex marriages. True, the one who earns more may be somewhat disincentivised by alimony requirements, but this isn't an insurmountable obstacle for everyone.

It makes marriage no different from a long-term relationship, just with a meaningless, ridiculously-expensive ceremony.

Will my mind be changed by the end of 2023? You can attempt to change my mind in the comments below. I am currently slightly sympathetic to some arguments for no-fault divorce, but currently not enough to change my mind.

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⚠Unreceptive to pings in all closed markets ; AFK Creator

📢Resolved to N/A : Possibly Abandoned Market / Subjective & Creator has not engaged in comments since May 2023.

@RobinGreen Please resolve your closed markets. Thank you!

If you care about data, you should change your mind because divorce rates are not actually higher in no fault states compared to other demographically similar states without no fault divorce, so your entire premise is invalid.

Since at fault, divorce is not actually effective at trapping women in unhappy marriages, it does not actually protect the sanctity of marriage like you had hoped, so you should change your mind.

bought Ṁ100 of NO

M$100 on OP being unconvincible!

It is quite difficult to argue against the concept of sanctity, as a ceremony overseen by God should eternally bind two souls in a way beyond the whims of humanity. However, the lens by which you might see the bigger picture is the line "till death do us part", included in most ceremonies. We humans are limited in our visibility; we can hope and we can believe in an ultimate righteous order to the universe, but we cannot see it, and so we do allow certain mortal practicalities to leak in. If two get married and then one is hit by a train, or enscripted in the military, or contracts a terminal illness, we don't condemn the other to the rest of their life being lonely. Perhaps the marriage was God's plan, but its continuation was not.

Only one step further from that, then, is the no-fault divorce. Faulted divorces account for abuse or cheating or what have you, but they do not account for a hard conversation about whether kids are desired or an unpassable opportunity at a job half a country away, or an unrelenting inability to get over the fact that you don't put the damn toilet roll on the damn toilet roll holder every friggin' time. A marriage is not just a long-term relationship, but it is a long-term relationship. Sometimes it is clear that a relationship is not sustainable, and sometimes it is only clear to one party. Perhaps it is a mismatch of sexual orientation not discovered until after the vows; perhaps a newly discovered drug or gambling habit; perhaps the fire simply fades, and a young marriage after a whirlwind dating period cannot fan the smoke enough to justify staring down the barrel of the next 60 years of life with that mistake.

A truly solid relationship, between two people who want the best for and with each other, does not need external protection. The people in the relationship will fight to keep themselves together, they do not need the state to force them to stay together. True, they may have the option to leave for whatever greener pastures they think there are, but they won't take it unless that option is truly preferable.

Self-doubt and Primal urges will whisper in our ears, like the Devil Himself, that of course this other person would take that option - just look at how brown my pasture is - but those are the same lies that cause us to presume rejection before we've even asked them out. The right partner can see through our doubts and love us anyway, and them sticking around is even more pure and true because the door out is not locked. God tells us the right way to live not because he demands respect, but because he loves us, and he wants what's actually best for us, not what we thought was best at the time.

bought Ṁ50 of NO

bidding "no" because I think you probably won't, not as a reflection of my views on the topic.

I don't really know what the "sanctity" of marriage is supposed to be, but I imagine it is, broadly, a religious concept. If you agree that the separation of state and church is good I don't see any argument for why the state should enforce religious ideas. I think of legal marriage as a form of subsidy to encourage desired behavior.

Religions are free to define their own definitions and rules for marriages (and they do). These can include all sorts of punishments for divorce including banishment and several forms of damnation. You and your spouse are free to join any of these religious groups or even create your very own. However, these groups have, for very good reasons, limited power in the form of punishment they can hand out. The state has the monopoly on violence.

In summary, nothing is stopping you and your spouse from upping the consequences of your marriage inside the limits of the law. Why do you want the state to force these on everyone?

predicted YES

Consider three tiers of possible committed relationship:

  • Long term relationship, no formal commitment

  • Marriage, with the possibility of no-fault divorce

  • Marriage, without the possibility of no-fault divorce

Different couples will have different preferences for which of these tiers to inhabit. I think that I, you, and the market creator all actually agree that couples should be able to choose between all three of these options.

I think you misinterpret the situation when you say that "nothing is stopping you and your spouse from upping the consequences of your marriage inside the limits of the law." The law as it stands is somewhat reluctant to enforce particularly strict prenups, so no, you can't up the consequences to the level some people desire. Currently there are two real options, the first two on my list above. Those who want the third are mostly out of luck.

Someone who proceeds on the assumption that there must be only two options might say, like in the market description, "[No-fault divorce] makes marriage no different from a long-term relationship, just with a meaningless, ridiculously-expensive ceremony." That is to say, in less heated language: the first two categories on the list are fairly similar, so why not squeeze them into one, that of the long-term relationship, and repurpose the word "marriage" for the third thing, that is currently unavailable?

I disagree with this, because I don't think we must only have two options available. Let there be marriages that allow no-fault divorce and those that don't: it could be as simple as having judges be less skeptical of prenups, and be more less reluctant to hold parties to them, to the same degree as with most contracts. Or it could be more formally integrated into the concept of marriage: have there be a checkbox on the marriage paperwork for "We want the option of a no-fault divorce." (Or: "We don't want the option of a no-fault divorce"—I'm not taking a stance on if it should be opt-in or opt-out.)

Why involve the state? Because if there is anything at all worthwhile in what states do, it is in the enforcement of contracts. To refuse to enforce contracts on a given subject is to soft-ban that subject; and I see less than no reason to ban this level of committed relationship, nor, from what you write, is that something you desire.

I hope I have correctly summarized what I read as the claim here; @RobinGreen can correct me if he feels I have misunderstood his stance. I see the core disagreement here to be one of facts, not values: you think that this level of commitment is already possible, and thus interpret this to be about forcing it on everyone; whereas I (and I believe @RobinGreen) think it to be not in practice currently allowed, and want the option to exist, without forcing it on those who don't want it.

After all that there may remain some amount of disagreement over the use of the word "marriage"—my preferred solution would be to use that word for a wide variety of commitment levels, not just the highest. And I'd accordingly prefer to give whatever tax benefits and so forth given to married couples also widely. But I also don't consider that the core of the argument: if we can all agree that those who want to bind themselves tightly should be allowed to do so, and that those who want to bind themselves at a lower level or not bind themselves at all should also be allowed that, then most of the argument here is moot.

@zzq To me it seems like you argue that it is somehow forbidden to choose this third level of commitments. It is, to the best of knowledge, not. It is the what many religious groups call simply marriage and they don't offer the second level at all. These groups have their own contracts and ways of enforcing their rules and some of them are also open for others to join. If there is no group that fits your needs you can always create your own group with new rules. There are however limits to what contracts the rest of society will enforce, which I assume we all agree is a good thing.

The reality is that the third level of commitment you describe does exists in many places, also inside the United States. The result is, frankly, hardship and suffering of the some of the weaker members of these groups.
Sometimes the suffering is so great that these people still seek to disband their marriages, at great cost to themselves. What 'fault-only divorce' proposes is to add to these peoples misery by also putting them in legal trouble.

There are limits to harm and suffering society is willing to put people through because they signed a contract (or were born to parents of a certain faith). A marriage you cannot get out of is one of them.

predicted YES

Your initial argument was that "nothing is stopping you and your spouse from upping the consequences of your marriage". This seems to imply a liberal position of letting people run their own lives, with which I agree.

Ah, but you qualify that with "inside the limits of the law". If that was indeed intended as a qualifier, it begs the question. What should the law be? You can't answer that with reference to what the law is.

Perhaps you're saying that the existing law is good enough, because couples have other ways to commit, and so the law does not need to be changed. For instance, you say that many groups have their own ways of enforcing their rules. Fine. But I don't care about those groups—for one thing, I want every couple, members of such a group or not, to have the option. You wouldn't say that it's OK to not have the law support same-sex marriage, just because gay people can have communities that will consider them married even if the law does not, I'm sure.

You write "There are however limits to what contracts the rest of society will enforce". Maybe, but that's not an argument about any specific case, including this one: you have to give an argument, no less than when banning something outright. Again, take same-sex marriage: what would you think of someone who said "I'm not saying that the government should ban gay marriage, just not enforce gay marriages"? You'd consider that a fairly thin excuse. The merits of not banning same-sex marriage don't go away when discussing only whether or not those marriages will be enforced.

Ultimately, people are responsible for their own lives. They may choose to run their lives in a way you wouldn't want to run your own—that's on them. "If you don't like gay marriage, don't get gay married", people used to say, and the same applies here.

Do you have any better argument in favor of a ban then "it's bad", "I don't like it", "if we allow this, sometimes people will make choices that I wouldn't have made and mess up their lives"? Consider if you have an argument an anti-same-sex-marriage advocate wouldn't have an equivalent version of.

Look, there is a consistent position on the other side. If you're the type of authoritarian who thinks he knows how people should run their lives, you can demand that this or that sort of marriage, that you think will lead to bad results, should be banned. But if, as suggested your initial comment, you take the side of individual autonomy, you should allow people to make their own decisions, even when those decisions are not to your taste.

(And I'm not sure what you mean by "or were born to parents of a certain faith". That's nonsensical in context: we're talking about people who choose to live their lives a certain way—what do parents have to do with it? If you're saying that no one ever really makes their own decisions because they've learned some of their values from their parents, so you should get to make their decisions for them, then I don't know what to say to you other than that we have a very fundamental philosophical disagreement. Again, consider the anti-same-sex-marriage advocate who wants to ban gay marriage because there might be people who wouldn't have gotten gay married if their parents hadn't taught them that it's OK to be gay.)

predicted YES

It seems to me that a major issue with fault-only divorce is that it forces people to create legal fictions and straight-up perjure themselves in court to get out of a divorce. The Wikipedia page gives the example of renting a mistress for a night so the wife could claim adultery. Firstly, this wouldn't be too hard to do for any couple wanting to divorce (which defeats the purpose of fault-only divorce), but secondly our divorce laws shouldn't force the couple into such a scandal where they lie in open court.

And what's even more problematic is that these legal fictions which allow divorce require the couple to collude, leaving a spouse in an abusive relationship, where they legitimately should divorce, no way of escaping.

@xyz What? Surely an abusive relationship is a fault?

predicted YES

@RobinGreen Well, emotionally abusive is not a fault, or at least not a substantial enough one. And physical abuse falls under "cruelty," which was used in many many cases, probably illegitimately. The thing is that if the standard for cruelty is too high then you lock people into physically abusive marriages, and if it's not high then anyone wanting to divorce can and will claim cruelty, which, according to Wikipedia, is what happened very often:

In many other states, especially California, the most popular allegation for divorce was cruelty (which was then unavailable in New York). For example, in 1950, wives pleaded "cruelty" as the basis for 70 percent of San Francisco divorce cases. Wives would regularly testify to the same facts: their husbands swore at them, hit them, and generally treated them terribly. This procedure was described by Supreme Court of California Associate Justice Stanley Mosk:

'Every day, in every superior court in the state, the same melancholy charade was played: the "innocent" spouse, generally the wife, would take the stand and, to the accompanying cacophony of sobbing and nose-blowing, testify under the deft guidance of an attorney to the spousal conduct that she deemed "cruel."'

predicted YES

@xyz I believe this is a clean argument when streamlined - either the couple can manufacture something that fulfills the criteria and after divorce clarify that the goal was to obtain it, making the ramifications whatever social consequences the divorce would have if it was no fault anyway - or the criteria are absurdly high preventing divorce in many cases where it should be granted.

If both parties want a divorce there is no reasonable way to prevent it short of absurd solutions like requiring a criminal conviction first.

Additionally it feels to me like forcing people into marriages they do not want to be in would increase death under suspicious circumstances rate by a lot.

@xyz I think you have misunderstood the Associate Justice's comment. In the 1950s, marital rape was legal, while wife beating was technically illegal the government often turned a blind eye to it, and women were not viewed as full people. He is being dismissive about actual cruelty, not accusing them of making shit up.

predicted YES

@RobinGreen I went and looked at his original statement, which was part of his dissent in a 1970 trial. It looks to me like he is concerned about and conscientious of actual cruelty. In fact it looks like Mosk is quite a liberal justice, saying, "The California Legislature took a giant leap forward in the field of domestic relations with adoption of the Family Law Act (which permitted no-fault divorce)," and that there was an "inexorable beneficent trend of the law in the divorce field."

Here I put the surrounding context of his Wikipedia quote:


I dissent.


Traditionally, divorce could be granted to an aggrieved marital partner only upon a showing of the exclusive fault of the other partner. Indeed, prior to 1952, if both husband and wife established that the other committed egregious acts proscribed by the Civil Code, neither could obtain a legal termination of the marriage. To prevail, an applicant had to be "without reproach." (Conant v. Conant (1858)) The incongruous compulsion upon two offending parties to retain their mutually intolerable marital status was finally eliminated in De Burgh v. De Burgh (1952), which wisely recognized that the considerations justifying a divorce "when one spouse has been guilty of misconduct are often doubly present when both spouses have been guilty." With that decision the defense of recrimination, for all practical purposes, became moribund, and a faint ray of rationality illumined the field of domestic relations.

However, the concept of fault as the essential element in divorce actions lingered on, even in cases involving no issue of child custody and cases in which the defendant defaulted and thus impliedly admitted the allegations of the complaint. [Wikipedia quote:] Every day, in every superior court in the state, the same melancholy charade was played: the "innocent" spouse, generally the wife, would take the stand and, to the accompanying cacophony of sobbing and nose-blowing, testify under the deft guidance of an attorney to the spousal conduct that she deemed "cruel."

Universal disenchantment with the demeaning nature of this command performance, and with the rule that demonstrable fault is necessary to terminate the marriage relationship, led to extensive legislative studies and ultimately to adoption of the Family Law Act.

He calls this a "command performance," which seems to me to imply that he thinks it is made up — and that the "demeaning" practice of forcing people to commit perjury was widespread in California courts.

predicted NO

@ByrneHobart shaped the way I think about this topic in https://byrnehobart.medium.com/true-love-is-the-most-important-thing-in-the-world-a-coasian-evolutionary-approach-8af8dbfc8bb9

Marriage is really important, and I think we should make it legal again.


As game theorists love to point out, the right to be sued is a valuable one. Without it, you can’t make credible promises. Similarly, the right to get married such that you can’t get unmarried without Herculean effort is a valuable one. The existence of no-fault divorce weakens that. You just can’t write a marriage contract that’s as permanent as used to be standard, and shorter-term contracts raise time preference and thus reduce investment in the future.


So, once you have two people who share the same utility function, what does that get you that you couldn’t get from some other arrangement?

It gets you a freakish two-headed, eight-limbed beast with 224 waking hours per week to accomplish its goals. When I go into job interviews, I honestly feel bad for people who don’t have the competitive advantage of a stable partner who wants them to be the primary earner.

The argument presented there—and the one I agree with—isn't about making things hard for people who want easy-to-enter-and-exit romantic partnerships. It's about having the opportunity, for those who choose it, to merge with their partner in a way which unlocks a whole bunch of awesomeness. That there is a risk of failure is true for many things which are worth doing nevertheless—indeed, the best things in life come from pushing boundaries and taking calculated risks for which you know that there is a positive risk-adjusted expected value.

Society already hangs an assortment of things off of the concept of marriage: tax benefits, automatic name-changes, presumptions of paternity, whatever. I don't really see a reason to take those away from people who want those things, but not the extra commitment. The ideal solution presumably involves having both types of marriage on the table, rather than trying to force everyone into the same bucket.

@zzq I presented this text to my GF and she got really triggered lol

bought Ṁ50 of NO

it seems strictly better to allow it than not because (content warning: libertarianism) if people are concerned about how binding their vows are, they can write up as onerous a prenup they want

@Lily This seems unrealistic. Two people who are deeply in love with each other seem unlikely to be willing to propose "and if you initiate divorce, you owe me 75% of your income for life" type clauses. Kind of a passion-killer, I would imagine!

predicted NO

Yeah, I think my real point is that if you're this worried about your potential spouse divorcing you just to trade up, why are you deeply in love with them?

@Lily Love makes us blind. That is why the state is here to protect us, with alimony laws and (in the past) requirements for something bad to happen in order to initiate divorce.

@RobinGreen Obviously you instead propose "and if I initiate a no-fault divorce, I owe you 75% of my income for life", and then it's romantic again.

bought Ṁ10 of YES

I wouldn't have maintained the will to live if I couldn't have gotten a divorce. I've started to wonder if the government should be in the marriage business at all.

sold Ṁ10 of NO

@LukeHanks Your comment is the first one that made an impact on me. Can you give more details, or is it too private?

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