After ‘I Do’: A Closer Look at American Marriage

It's what occurs after the wedding that really defines marriage.

Getting married remains a celebrated and idealized event. The words “I Do” bring with them excitement and a lot of planning. However, it’s what occurs after the wedding that really defines marriage.

Changes In Traditional Families

Concordia University-Saint Paul states that pre-20th-century family structures typically consisted of a husband, wife, and children. Some households were made up of extended families that included other family members, such as aunts, uncles, and grandparents.

The husband usually defined the wife’s role. Before the Married Women’s Property Act of 1839, women could not take part in any legal contracts, sue or be sued or own and control property.

As time progressed, more women were becoming, and divorce became more common. Social laws that empowered women and minority groups led to more single-parent households, same-sex marriages, blended families and many more variations. By the 1980s, families were smaller, marriage was delayed, and women were working and caring for children. Furthermore, spouses were living longer than in the past. Nowadays, many don’t even go through the process of getting married despite living together and living their lives as if they were married. Instances like this have different separation proceedings than normal divorces as well.

Today, the average family structure is anything but traditional. A New York Times article, written by Natalie Angier, states that families are becoming more egalitarian. Democrats marry Republicans, people marry other races, and some even marry those with different religious beliefs.

Prevalence of Divorce

It’s become common knowledge that divorce rates are much higher than they were in previous centuries. A number of social changes have fostered new beliefs about marriage and its importance. According to the American Psychological Association, between 40 and 50 percent of all U.S. marriages end in divorce. Divorce rates doubled for those over the age of 35 between 1990 and 2008.

These days, couples have the option to file for an absolute divorce or a limited divorce. Coover Law Firm explains, “A divorce by mutual consent has no waiting period or separation requirement, encourages divorcing couples without minor children to work out the terms of their divorce by written agreement, and rewards them with a quick, and relatively inexpensive, absolute divorce.” While an absolute divorce legally ends the marriage, a limited divorce is similar to a separation. During this limited divorce time period (which is decided by a judge), financial, custodial and other issues can be resolved. Neither party is permitted to remarry or have intimate relations with anyone else. Furthermore, the two cannot engage in sexual relations with each other unless they restart the limited divorce process from day one. It doesn’t seem to be the ideal situation, but it’s beneficial for some couples.

Though the marriage ceremony has pretty much remained the same since the advent of what we know as American culture, it’s a dynamic structure. As long as American society evolves, so will the institute of marriage.

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