Most of this post is not me! It’s from Real World Divorce, a book by Alexa Dankowski, Suzanne Goode, Philip Greenspun, Chaconne Martin-Berkowicz, and Tina Tonnu. The most important part is: “What’s her best advice to people hoping to have a lifelong marriage?” And the answer: “Don’t slide into marriage. When you move in or have a child together, do it on purpose,” which is one of the things I’ve done right in my life. I’ve never gotten married, and although I’ve been rammed by the so-called “family court” system, at least I haven’t gotten hit with the alimony too:
“Marriage used to be something you did first and then you built your life on that,” said Bryndl Hohmann-Marriott, an American sociologist currently teaching at University of Otago. “Now it is a capstone event that you do after you achieve other things. This results in people waiting until they are much older to have children. In New Zealand right now there are more women age 35-39 having children than women 20-25.”
In light of Professor Hohmann-Marriott’s observation, staying married is more important than it used to be because people are getting married at an age where they have fewer remaining years in which to recover from a mistake.
Hofmann-Marriott’s research, in collaboration with Professor Paul Amato at Penn State, shows that there are plenty of divorces in marriages that are just as happy as those that continue for decades. “Nothing distinguished the quality of marriage for those people who got divorced out of low-distress [nobody hitting anyone] marriages,” Professor Hohmann-Marriott told us, “so it has to be just a lack of personal commitment to the institution of marriage that explains some divorces.” What’s her best advice to people hoping to have a lifelong marriage? “Don’t slide into marriage. When you move in or have a child together, do it on purpose.”
Based on our interviews with attorneys, psychologists, and sociologists, as well as our review of the literature, a good starting point is to find people who have a cultural or religious commitment to marriage. They are the ones who will be willing to put in some work and effort when there are bumps in the road, rather than picking up the phone to call a litigator. At the other end of the spectrum are children of divorce who are themselves prone to becoming divorced. “If she didn’t have a close and loving relationship with her daddy,” we were told, “she isn’t going to be able to handle being a wife.” This perspective is echoed in the psychology literature. From Father-Daughter Relationships: Contemporary Research and Issues (Nielsen 2012): “Which mothers are the least likely to be gatekeepers? Generally speaking, mothers who keep the coparenting gate open share several things in common (Titelman, 2008; Cannon, 2008; Chiland, 1982; Krampe & Newton, 2006; Pleck & Masciadrelli, 2010). First, these mothers had good relationships with their fathers while they were growing up. They value and appreciate fathers. They believe men and women should be equal parents. In contrast, the gatekeepers more often grew up in single-parent, divorced, or unhappily married families. Their relationships with their fathers were distant, troubled, or virtually nonexistent.” Most states’ divorce courts substantially reward gatekeeper mothers by awarding custody to the “historical primary caregiver” of a child. By definition a gatekeeper mother will have been the dominant parent during a marriage.
The research of Brinig and Allen shows that your chance of being sued for divorce rises with the amount of money that your spouse can get from you and with the probability that your spouse can win sole custody of the children. You can increase your chances of staying married, therefore, by marrying someone wealthier than yourself and by ensuring that you are not in a jurisdiction where the other spouse can easily get sole custody of the children (e.g., if you’re a man, try to settle in Arizona or Delaware).