Divorce/Women's Rights

How should one respond to the claim that prior to the reform of divorce laws in the U.S., women were oppressed and often stuck in abusive marriages, and thus, this reform was good for society?

You would have to show evidence for oppression, and that they were “often” stuck in abusive marriages.

You would have to show evidence that divorce was good for society as a whole.


Thanks, Ed. To elaborate a bit, the argument given also stated that if a woman did leave her abusive husband, she was often “shunned” and ostracized by society.

Where does the argument come from? Divorce is still a serious matter, even though some claim Catholics in general, and/or that the Church thinks less of it than some others think it should.

If we are going to understand what “women’s rights” means then we need a source that lists those rights. Since 1968, society has been under intense, constant pressure to avoid commitment, to consider sex a plaything and to view marriage in a negative light.

This would be a good opportunity to be clear about “women’s rights” since they include all involved: the spouse, children and society as a whole.


If the reform brought about a change for woman who were stuck in abusive marriages (and their children), then it would stand to reason that this change brought improvement. However, divorce now has become an option for people who do not really commit to marriage in the first place and if this is a result of the reform then I would say it was destructive to society as divorce generally cause great upheaval in the lives of all involved.

The whole point of marriage is a complete self-giving to another person for the rest of your earthly life by swearing a covenant oath to God. That isn’t something to take lightly ever. It’s why we have PreCana classes and why marriage is considered sacred and a Holy Sacrament in our Church.

Divorce is very serious.

One of my dear friend’s parents were married almost 60 years ago. Her Mother was brought up Catholic. I’m not sure about her Dad. My friend is one of 8 children. Her and her siblings were not brought up in church at all. Her Dad was an alcoholic and beat her Mom unmercifully on almost a daily basis. She would try to sleep with one of the daughters on nights when he was out drinking. He would come home, put a knife to her throat, drag her to their room and rape her. After one beating she became deaf in one ear. She filed for divorce when the youngest children were teenagers. My friend’s grandparents stopped speaking to her Mom because of the divorce. They told her that she’d made her bed and had to lie in it no matter what her husband did. I don’t remember if they ever spoke to her again before their deaths.

His violent tendencies didn’t manifest until 6 months after they were married. I’m surprised he didn’t end up killing her.

In this case, I see divorce as her option. Granted this isn’t the case in all divorces, but I think staying was a lot more common 50 - 60 years ago.

I have been in an abusive relationship, however I know too that Jesus said that marriage was for all our lives. Women do have the possibility of civil divorce for protection of self and any little ones. The marriage before God continues to exist (unless a tribunal finds that no marriage existed in the first place).

I think we really need to have an idea of the broader picture. 50 or 60 years ago, divorce was definitely an option in the Catholic Church. One good reason was infidelity. The other reason was being beaten mercilessly on a regular basis. I have a dear friend who was an abuse victim and she divorced. We should not underestimate the problem but we should not overestimate it.

I mean, 50 or 60 years ago, if the woman showed clear signs of cuts and bruises, it was no shame to go to her priest and explain it all. If the man showed that he was unwilling to change his ways and continue to harm her, especially when children were involved, I cannot see a priest turning her petition away. My dear friend was abused/beaten for 12 years.

People shun or break ties with others for a number of reasons. Take wills:

  1. In one case, the family fought like cats and dogs over the spoils. They claimed no will could be found. My lady friend knew where it was and presented it to the lawyer. Needless to say, they were very upset with her.

  2. My other lady friend was briefly involved in another cats and dogs fight in her family because there was no will. When she came to visit the estate, the first words she heard were: “What do you want?” She told them she only wanted the family Bible. She was handed the Bible and left.

  3. Another close friend told told me how two groups of relatives would take turns caring for an elderly, sickly relative who eventually died. One group got more than the other in the will. The group who got less complained they had done more than the other and deserved more. Since they could do nothing legally, both groups did not speak to each other for 15 years.

Sorry for the digression.


The Church wouldn’t let anyone stay in an abusive relationship for the sake of not getting a divorce, it means someone lied to the other before they got married. I know of a man whose wife is a danger to him and their children and the priest told him that his vocation to his children outweighs everything else and he absolutely should apply for an annulment.

If the reform was good for society because women were in abusive marriages then how come in 2013 there are thousands of women still in abusive marriages? Why does the problem still exists if divorce was the solution, in fact why the rates of domestic violence are going up instead of down? The argument is just not logical.

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