Some feminist or other once wrote that divorce is the logical extension of marriage. When a married woman gets divorced, she goes from one situation of being financially dependent and caring for kids alone to a new situation of being financially dependent and caring for kids alone. Probably, that argument made sense in the context of second wave feminism, when there was little state provision for women raising kids alone, and women's access to the job market was limited.
Custodial parents (usually mums) still tend to end up far worse off financially following divorce than non-custodial parents, but there's no point denying that divorce can be incredibly tough on men and women alike. It's not like marriages only end when men cast aside their wives for newer, younger models, as I think the anonymous feminist mentioned above thinks. Divorces can be instigated by either party, and incredibly painful for both.
Given that divorces can be shattering for both spouses, and can bring out the worst behaviour in both men and women, how can the interests of kids be protected? Despite my lack of patience with the father's rights lobby, my heart goes out to any parent who loves his or her children but can't be with them.
I was an adult when my own parents split, but three of my siblings still lived at home. They chose to live with my mum, and my father didn't see a great deal of them. This was very hard on him, but he chose to accept it because it was far less disruptive to the kids than starting some of territorial conflict with my mother, within or outside the Family Court. I greatly respected my father's for this, and I understand how very unhappy it made him at times. He had to decide between what he wanted and what was best for his kids, and he made the right decision. Sometime life isn't fair, and you've got to put someone else's welfare ahead of your own.
In an ideal world, though, divorce wouldn't make people go so crazy (about kids, property and so on) that compromises have to be made. I don't have a magical solution to this; but I think that society's attitudes to divorce - and, for that matter, the whole institution of marriage - need to be more flexible. I think we should accept that, for some people at least, divorce will be the logical conclusion of marriage, and we should not only focus on supporting families post-divorce but start thinking about marriage as something which may be less than a lifelong proposition.
When you get married, you make a pledge to reserve all your affection and sexual love for one person for your entire life, and you expect the same from that person in return. The more you buy into these ideas, the more committed you are to them, the more it must feel that your world has fallen apart when your marriage fails. Little wonder that people go crazy when something that was supposed to last a lifetime falls short of the mark. I don't want to trivialise the experiences of women or men who feel shattered when their marriages end.
But what if our expectations of marriage were a bit lower? My partner of twelve years and I have always taken a pragmatic approach to our relationship. We've got no plans to split up, but it's something we talk about from time to time. This seems to us like a responsible thing to do, like planning ahead for your kids or taking out insurance. We try make sure each of us has opportunities in our paid work, so that if we did split both of us would be able to support ourselves. We've agreed that if we were to split, the kids would be paramount, and there would absolutely not be any tug of war over them. We're not married, so we never pledged to love, honour or cherish one another for life - but we have pledged that, if we split, we'll have enough respect for each other that we'll never use the kids to hurt one another.
Of course, this might be one of those things that works very well in theory but turns to crap in practice. And you might think it's incredibly cynical or even a bit bizarre to plan for the possibility of relationship breakdown. I haven't been through the experience of divorce myself, but I've seen it happen in a dignified way, and I've also seen it go horribly wrong. There's a place for policies which support couples to try to stay together, but I think there's also a place for policies which help people split in the most painless and non-adversarial way possible, with minimum damage to themselves and their kids. Some would see this as advocating a flippant approach to marriage, and they're probably right. As usual, I'd love to hear other people's thoughts!