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Breaking up is easy to do

"Breaking up is easy to do" Continued...

Issue: "Crossing the Rubiocon," Aug. 14, 2010

Still, divorce laws are powerfully symbolic because they tell us what a marriage should be, said Robin Wilson, professor of law at Washington and Lee University. Taking adultery and abuse into account during a divorce tells society that marriages should be faithful and loving. In a divorce case called one of the nastiest in New York history, supermodel Christie Brinkley left with $80 million after exposing her husband Peter Cook for sleeping with his 18-year-old assistant and then bribing her to stay silent, and for committing sexual acts in front of a webcam and transmitting the feed across the internet.

Why would Brinkley drag her family's pain in front of the world? "Sometimes it matters to you," said Wilson. And sometimes it should matter to the rest of us, too. If a man beats his wife in the face with a barbell until she's unrecognizable, as one man did, then society should say this is wrong.

Fault-based divorce also protects lower-earning spouses. New York's no-fault divorce legislation united two unlikely allies in opposition to it: the feminist National Organization for Women (NOW) and the conservative New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms. In a memo opposing the bill, the NOW said no-fault divorce favors the monied spouse (usually the husband) over the other. If one party actually is at fault, the new legislation won't take that into account when dividing property-a measure that often has created financial hardship for women and children.

McClintock says he doesn't know if any legislative measures could have saved his marriage. He just wanted more accountability-maybe not to him but to somebody: "It's just too easy. She could literally change her life overnight." McClintock, now happily remarried, said the pain of divorce has given him more sympathy than he used to have: "I looked down on divorced people. I thought, 'They're quitters. I would never let that happen to me.'" Now he knows it only takes one to quit.

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