Divorce and Separation Harm Reduction

by W.F. Price on October 30, 2012

There’s been a rash of domestic killings in my region recently, mainly of the murder-suicide variety, most involving obviously ineffective restraining orders. People still seem to hope that restraining orders can actually prevent these sorts of things rather than exacerbate them, but I don’t think it’s because they are being deliberately obtuse in most cases. Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s because people don’t realize that there are other options.

Restraining orders, which are handed out like halloween candy, are de riguer in contentious divorces, and there’s some evidence that they may contribute to homicide. However, we should take care to point out that it isn’t only restraining orders that contribute to rage, despair and homicidal/suicidal ideation, but rather the entire package.

When young or otherwise na├»ve men go through a contentious divorce or separation, they usually are not prepared for the lowering of the boom that accompanies these things. On paper, a man can go from middle-class respectable citizen to destitute criminal suspect very rapidly after being served papers. The shock is very, very severe for those unprepared for it. Adding to this, of course, is the fact that most of these men actually love their wives/partners. The sense of betrayal is profound. It’s the kind of blow people might reasonably expect never to recover from, and can result in an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness.

This feeling of hopelessness and desperation can be very dangerous. Men who have nothing to look forward to – who can see no light at the end of the tunnel – are far more likely to kill. In most cases they merely kill themselves and we hear nothing of it unless they commit suicide by cop. However, in a small minority of cases they kill those they feel betrayed them.

How can we prevent this while still allowing separation? First, I think there needs to be some restraint on the part of courts and attorneys when it comes to both financial and custodial issues. If you hit guys with loss of loved ones, throw them out of their houses, and immediately set the customary level of child support/alimony all in one fell blow, a lot of them are going to crack. It takes time for men to get used to the new situation, and depriving them of their entire support system and the ability to feed themselves doesn’t hurry that process along.

Perhaps one measure that might be helpful would be to delay any support orders for some time after an initial separation decree. Perhaps a few months, so the man can pick himself back up and start to get to work on a new life. If a man is to be removed from his house and children against his will, it should not be accompanied at the same time by financial ruin. It may seem like a small step, but it could save lives and make the situation less destructive in the long run.

So, I’d propose that one part of family law reform should be preventing courts from levying any financial obligations on spouses who are removed from their houses for a period of some 90 days, unless they filed for divorce themselves. This could not only prevent violence, but might also lead to a decline in the number of frivolous divorces. It would provide an important cooling off period, and allow a man to seek representation and defend himself from spurious accusations that often accompany the initial filings. It might also increase the number of collaborative divorces, as spouses would have some motivation to come to a financial settlement by themselves. Although I’m sure feminists would object to such a rule, it would still allow for restraining orders, so their objections would be entirely about money, and wouldn’t carry as much weight.

Much more could be done along these lines, but we have to start somewhere, and this would be a good first step.

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