The State, Marriage and Divorce

Journal of Applied Philosophy 9 (2):135-148 (1992)
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ABSTRACT This essay advances several interrelated arguments concerning the proper role of the state with regard to marriage and divorce but my main contention is that ‘pure’no‐fault divorce laws are unjust—or, at least, they are unjust if marriage involves a genuinely contractual element, and there seems to be very little doubt that it does. Locke, Kant and Hegel are three eminent thinkers who are alike in viewing marriage as a contract and in the first two sections of the essay I consider their views on the role of contract in marriage. Whilst holding that marriage is more than a contract, I also hold that it is not less than a contract. In section three I consider the implications of this ‘not less than’, the most important one being that ‘pure’no‐fault divorce laws are unjust. I shall contend that whilst the irretrievable breakdown of marriage may be regarded as a suitable ground for divorce, it simply cannot, and certainly ought not to, be regarded as a justificatory basis for the laying aside of rights acquired by individuals as a result of their having entered into a marital contract. However minimal one might wish the role of the state to be, or however averse one might be from allowing the state any role at all in purely personal and confidential relationships, yet to allow the expression ‘the irretrievable breakdown of marriage’to be employed as a olanket to cover over the infringement of personal, contractually engendered and civilly recognised rights, is not to exercise commendable restraint but is, rather, to condone what is simply an abnegation by the state of its basic responsibility to ensure that justice prevails



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