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Michael Kretzmer Headshot

America's Relationship with Divorce: 'It's Complicated'

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Each day I descend into the cauldron of human conflict. Here I expend all my energy. Here I will devote my skills to the search for life, liberty and happiness on behalf of others. For I deal in human fulfillment. I am a divorce lawyer.

At least that is what I used to be. With all of the changes that have come about in the last few years, I can no longer be sure. As with most things in life, what used to be easy to comprehend is now as complex as the United States Tax Code and as difficult as understanding anything Michele Bachmann says. Perhaps now I am a "social engineer" and no longer simply a lawyer.

In the 1950s and 1960s when I grew up, the concept of "married" meant a man and a woman and 2.3 kids all being of the same race and the entire neighborhood in which a family lived was seemingly made up of one race, one church, no private schools, etc. In the Eisenhower/Kennedy era, family strife seemed absent except when you tuned to the first reality show -- "Divorce Court." Mental cruelty, infidelity, alcoholism, gambling, and other sordid behaviors were the staple of each week's show as the burden fell to the party wanting the divorce to prove in open court the failings of their chosen spouse. Those were the good old days of "fault," blame and moral indignation.

Fast forward. In slightly more than 40 years, beginning with the advent of "no-fault" divorce in California, we have obtained warp speed in our pursuit of new family structures, new definitions of relationships, new and inconceivable complications and there surely are more interesting and confounding issues on the horizon, such as whether polygamy should be legalized again 120 years after Utah outlawed the practice (which it was required to do in order to be admitted to the Union). Let's look at a partial list of where we have gone in the last 40 years:

No Fault Divorce In 1970 California's then Governor Ronald Reagan signed into law the most extensive "No-fault" divorce legislation in the country (Oklahoma actually was the first state to make "no fault" the law in 1953). With the advent of no-fault divorce, parties were spared the embarrassment of having to prove and expose in open court the gross behavioral failings and conduct of the other party in order to convince a Judge (who himself might have been guilty of some of the conduct discussed in a particular case) to obtain a divorce.

Cohabitation "Living in sin" was, and in more than a handful of locales and social groups still is, severely frowned upon. In 2011, statistics may well show that there are more couples choosing to live together without marriage than those who live together having married. This raises a host of complications for unmarried couples that have children and for states in fulfilling government obligations to provide for and regulate the care of children , not to mention issues pertaining to support, the division of property obtained while living together, etc.

Surrogacy Who is your daddy? Spend tens of thousands of dollars (or hundreds of thousands of dollars) and design your very own child. Want the sperm of a French-speaking, former investment banker who has scaled 8,000 meter peaks in the Himalaya and has never neither smoked nor drank? Put in your order.

Same Sex Domestic Partners/Marriages With the State of New York enacting its law permitting same sex marriage, gay and lesbian couples will no longer have to drive all the way to Connecticut to marry legally. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. What other changes are coming about as a result of New York's new legislation? What does this mean for other states?

Spousal Support/Maintenance/Alimony/Child Support With a radically changing economy means big changes for families whether intact or not. In the divorce arena, courts are increasingly placing greater responsibility on each parent to contribute to their own and any children's support after the break-up of a marriage. Awards of child and spousal support are likely decreasing significantly.

Child Custody The days of fathers having custody every other weekend and on Wednesday evenings for a dinner visit are long gone for the most part. Research on the role of the father in child development has exploded and created new norms regarding custody and the increased role of fathers in the lives of their children. Increasingly, courts are being called upon to manage (sometimes micro-manage) and organize the lives of families and the raising of children in unexpected and unanticipated ways.

Paternity What seemed like a really neat idea at 2:30 a.m. after a couple of six packs of beer while lying on a blanket at the lake, may have unintended consequences a couple of months later. Financial, social and moral implications arising from parenthood issues out of wedlock can be overwhelming and devastating.

These are just some of the areas in which the law has and is evolving rapidly and vastly. Add to all of this the enormous psychological, emotional, financial and physical stresses that come from the dissolution of the family structure and you have the perfect storm for your personal life. All of which you then bring to me, or someone like me, and say "fix it," often forgetting that we (the divorce lawyer) did not choose the former love of your life, father/mother of your children and the person to whom you hitched your wagon and your entire personal, social and economic future at a point in your past life when it seemed like such a good idea.

In the coming weeks, we hope to bring you some insight into the changes that have come and are coming to families, family organization and responsibilities and the many and often unanticipated consequences of the choices we make individually and collectively about who we live with, who we have children with, and all the questions that go along with the choices we make.

Buckle up. It's going to be a bumpy ride.