The rules of divorce have softened some of the more constraining aspects of conjugality, but they have not altered its essential form. Unlike laws governing entry into marriage, laws governing divorce have changed radically since the country’s founding.
Early laws enforced lifelong conjugality. In the colonies and the early days of the country, the marital relationship was virtually indissoluble. States gradually permitted judicial divorce, but only to an innocent party who could prove the fault of his or her spouse-through adultery, violence, cruelty, incurable insanity, etc. Not until the later part of the twentieth century did states begin permitting couples to divorce, based essentially upon a showing that they were no longer compatible. These changes in the rules and practices of family law relaxed one of the more stringent (and least successful) requirements of conjugality and simultaneously expanded some individuals’ abilities to determine their intimate lives.
But even in the current no-fault era, conjugality still perseveres. Divorce is not automatic, nor it’s always easy. Many states in fact permit relatively quick and easy divorce only if both parties consent to the dissolution of the marriage. When one spouse opposes dissolution, family – law rules require courts to put on the brakes and more deeply inquire into the couple’s relationship.
Usually, the petitioning spouse may then prove irreparable deterioration of the marriage relationship by showing that the couple has lived separate and apart, without engaging in sexual relations for a statutorily prescribed period of time. In some states, a couple must be separated for at least two years before a court will grant a divorce over the objection of one of the parties.
Even when they allow marital bonds to be severed, states law have historically treated marital obligations of support, as enduring. Alimony or spousal support has since became less favored (and officially gender-neutral). Its goals have also evolved from ensuring ongoing support to include rehabilitating a spouse who has been unemployed or underemployed during the marriage in order to facilitate his or her reentry into the workforce, thus ensuring economic self – sufficiency, and reimbursing a spouse who has contributed to the marriage partnership.