Ending No Fault Divorce: Guest Commentary from Leah Ward Sears

I found this article on CNN.com to be interesting.  It’s definitely something we should talk about.  As a man who came from an unstable background as a child, the older I get, the more I feel that families and stable homes for children are the foundation of a solid community.  Strong families are what make nations great for so many reasons.    What do you think?

Leah Sears stepped down as chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court to work on strengthening families.

Editor’s note: Leah Ward Sears stepped down this week as Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court. In 1992, she became the first woman — and youngest person — appointed to Georgia’s highest court.

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) — After Tommy’s sudden death, we found among my brother’s personal effects a questionnaire he had completed in 2005 for a church class.

The very first question was a fill-in-the-blank that went like this: “At the end of my life, I’d love to be able to look back and know I’d done something about …..”

“Fathers,” Tommy wrote.

When asked to identify something that angered him that could be changed, Tommy wrote, “Re-establishment of equity and balance and sanity within the American family.”

My brother was born to be a father, and he grew into a good and loving one. Tommy was tall and handsome, smart, witty and fun. A graduate of the Naval Academy and a Stanford-educated lawyer, he married and fathered a little girl and boy who were the center of his life.

Tommy felt that one of the worst problems in our country today was family breakdown and fatherlessness. He railed against intentional unwed childbearing and the ease with which divorce was possible. He didn’t like that we have become a society that values the rights of adults to do their own thing over our responsibility to protect our children.

As a judge I have long held a front row seat to the wreckage left behind by our culture of disposable marriage and casual divorce that my brother so despised.

No-fault divorce was a response to a very real problem. The social and legal landscape that preceded it largely prevented casual divorce, but it often trapped people in abusive marriages. It also turned divorces into even uglier affairs than they are today, forcing people to expose in court damaging information about their children’s other parent. That system was intolerable, and we should never go back to that.

But no-fault divorce’s broad acceptance as an unquestioned social good helped usher in an era that fundamentally altered the seriousness with which marriage is viewed. It effectively ended marriage as a legal contract since either party can terminate it, with or without cause. This leaves many people struggling to remake their lives after painful divorces that they do not want. It also left many parents cut off from, or sidelined in, the lives of the children they love.

When Tommy divorced, as in so many cases, a bitter struggle over resources and the children ensued. My brother came to believe that the legal system turned him into a mere visitor of his children.

Tommy eventually accepted a job as a lawyer for the State Department and went to Iraq (and later to Dubai) in order to make the money needed to support his children. Being in a war zone, under terrible conditions without the children he loved, was unbearable to him.

On November 5, 2007, my phone rang before daybreak. A U.S. Foreign Service officer was on the other line. Was I the sister of William Thomas Sears?

I knew before I was told what had happened. Tommy had died. But the cause took my breath away: My brother had taken his own life.

I know I’ll never understand fully all that factored into his decision to kill himself. No doubt Tommy was wrestling with more demons than he had ever admitted to me or knew himself. But as a divorcee myself and, for a number of years, a single parent, I know the immense pain of divorce and its aftermath. The limitations the law placed on Tommy’s right to raise his own children after his divorce magnified my brother’s pain and was, I believe, more than he could live with.

Tommy was only 53 when he committed suicide. That was more than a year ago, and I am still learning to live without him and live with the fact that this man I looked up to all my life chose to end his own life.

Tommy’s loss has catapulted me even farther down a path I was already on. This may sound like heresy, but I believe the United States and a host of Western democracies are engaged in an unintended campaign to diminish the importance of marriage and fatherhood. By refusing to do everything we can to stem the rising rate of divorce and unwed childbearing, our country often isolates fathers (and sometimes mothers) from their children and their families.

Of course, there are occasions when divorce is necessary. And not everyone should marry. But it has become too easy for people to walk away from their families and commitments without a real regard for the gravity of their decision and the consequences for other people, particularly children.

Removing no-fault divorce as a legal option may not be the right way to move forward, and the solutions we need may not be entirely legal in nature. But answers must be found. The coupling and uncoupling we’ve become accustomed to undermines our democracy, destroys our families and devastates the lives of our children, who are not as resilient as we may wish to think. The one-parent norm, which is necessary and successful in many cases, nevertheless often creates a host of other problems, from poverty to crime, teen pregnancy and drug abuse.

The loss of my brother has changed my life, as these losses so often do to people. This summer, after 26 years, I’m hanging up my robe as a judge to return to private practice.

I will spend some of my time teaching a course in family law at the University of Georgia Law School. And I have accepted a fellowship at the Institute of American Values in New York — a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that contributes intellectually to strengthening families and civil society in the United States and the world.

At my request, the fellowship is named after my brother. As the William Thomas Sears Distinguished Fellow in Family Law, perhaps now I can truly do “something about fathers” — a mission I’m on for Tommy and a critical calling for all of us.

Of Love and Relationship Roles ~ A Running Debate

Ok let’s talk.  I want to have a serious discussion about relational roles of a man and a woman.   This discussion comes on the heels of both a radio program I listened to recently, as well as a running debate I’ve had with a good friend of mine who happens to be  a very progressive and liberal thinking woman.  This is a person I deeply respect.  A great thinker.  But every time this subject comes up, it’s battle stations ready! 

Now before I pose the questions let me put down the ground rules so we can eliminate side arguments and certain defensive posturing.

1) In the relationship scenario – we are using as an example a good man and woman who are loving,  responsible, and respectful.  No need to say, “Well if he is a dog hell naw I ain’t submitting to him.” 

2) The author of this post truly honors and respects the worth of a woman.  Her contributions cannot be counted, and her abilities are almost limitless.   There is no sexism involved that says a woman cannot do such and such.

3) These are general principles and should be taken that way.  No need for extreme rebuttals on particular words and phrases.  Please take the theme in perspective and give the author the benefit of the doubt.  You may comment on the lines drawn in the sand areas.  There are only one or two at most.

On to the discussion of the day:

As progressive of a thinker as I am, I still hold to some old fashioned values of chivalry.  For instance I believe a man’s first priority towards his woman is to protect her.  That could be interpreted physically, mentally or whatever.  If a burglar were to enter the premises,  I would not ask my woman to “go check on that.”  She can be a combat expert in karate, M16s and explosives – doesn’t matter.  I don’t think it’s her “role” to protect me in that situation.  (Now if we are all fighting in some Bonnie and Clyde circumstance in public, that may be a different thing.  I believe in opening doors and pulling out chairs in a restaurant.  I believe a man should also love and cherish his woman.  He should listen to her and do all he can to understand her as she develops and changes.  I believe he should provide leadership and vision – providing a specific direction regarding the goals of the family etc.  Does this mean that the woman is not providing ideas, feedback etc.?  Of course not.  In this day and age especially, the 21st Century woman is more versed in the general affairs of society than ever before.  Her voice is vital and her contributions priceless.   In the idea situation, the woman will compliment her man by having gifts and talents that he does not possess to add to the value of the relationship.  He will do the same for her.

I believe a man’s purpose is to provide for his woman.  Not that she can’t make money.  She may even make more money than he does.  He should not be intimidated by her career or her goals in the marketplace.  He should support them.  At the same time he should be looking to provide for the day to day needs.   Depending on the lifestyle a family wants to live, nowadays it takes two incomes combined to make it happen.  Still it should be his goal to better himself to the point of being responsible just in case she can’t produce for whatever reason, i.e. childbirth, sickness etc.  This to me would be idea.

In terms of functioning day to day – couples should work together to make the household go round.  Take advantage of one another’s talents and gifts to make things as smooth as possible.  For instance, whichever person is good with organization may be the one to physically pay the bills.  If she loves yard work, perhaps she will cut the grass or rake leaves.  Just as well he may decorate the house if he has a visual perspective for decor.   The roles for day to day ops, should not be delegated merely by gender.

Here is where it gets sticky in the aforementioned debate.  I believe that a man should be the leader in the household and in the direction of the relationship.  If he is smart, he will recognize the strength and wisdom of his woman and receive her input as vital.  If he is leading in a direction that she does not approve of, he could be an emperor with no clothes.   Men have blind-spots and his woman should be a partner of ideas of valued discussions.  Still he is responsible for the safety and welfare of the family.  Both man and woman should be “equal partners” in terms of value, but do not foster equal roles within the structure.  Everyone is happy when they can agree, but if the couple don’t agree and a decision needs to be made he should make it after careful consideration.  Being “the man” to me merely means being responsible for the overall direction and course of the relationship and the family structure.  If it fails its on him unless he did all he could and his woman simply rebelled or decided not to follow his leadership.  Again this is assuming both parties are totally committed to the success of the relationship and family.

Furthermore, in my opinion a discerning woman will realize that her brilliance is never undermined when she accepts these precepts.  As a matter of fact, any man will tell you if his woman is not happy, the whole house is not happy. Any leading that he does she has to “let” him do anyway.  She can in her wisdom and love build him up to be the greatest leader he can be, or she can tear him down and attempt to make mincemeat out of him.  Like it or not, James Brown said it best.  “This is a man’s world.  (directional functioning) But it wouldn’t be nothing, without a woman, boy or girl.”  I’ve long had a saying, that God’s great equalizer to a male dominated society is a woman.  Because I don’t care how much a man accomplishes, his greatest desire after his purpose it to be loved, needed, appreciated, and respected by his woman.  Period.  So she is invaluable – and as I said women today especially are more skilled, sharp and able than ever before – and have carried men for a long time, especially black men in the midst of the struggle we have faced within society post slavery, Jim Crow, self identity crisis etc.  What a woman has to do and what a woman should be doing to me are two different things. 

The benefits of the progressive woman are obvious.  The advances have come hard fought and well earned.  Our society is still not progressive enough in my view in appreciating, protecting, and valuing women.  But the downside is this competitive paradigm for a power struggle.  Equal partners in terms of input and value does not mean equal parts of functionality.  I believe most women accept and even embrace the theory.  The problem becomes an issue of trust because of a negative track record with immature, ignorant, (ignorant in the derogotory as well as the without knowledge sense) and selfish men.  (Of which I have been in my day)

My friend thinks this is a sexist way of thinking.  That equal partners means equal everything.  There are two chiefs and no one is more in charge or responsible than the other. 

So chime in on this discussion.   What do ya’ll think??  Are my Fred Flintstone ideas merely prehistoric?  Is the old school way the best way? 

Please respond with love and intelligence as I have presented it with such.