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Stolen Vows, by Judy Parejko

My book review

Stolen Vows cover

The subtitle is "The Illusion of No-Fault Divorce and the Rise of the American Divorce Industry".

Everybody should read this – I hope it gets back in print!

The author was a former divorce mediator in the State of Wisconsin, who was fired because she felt a moral imperative to try to save marriages rather than to help terminate them more efficiently. In the process, she came to understand the horrible injustice of No-Fault divorce. Then she started to do her own investigation to find the history of how this system came into existence starting in California in the 1970s.

This is a brilliant and insightful book which is very readable. A few books deal with the travesty of unilateral No-Fault divorce, but this one is the best that I've read. It focuses clearly on the main issue of the laws which allow this. Also, it answers questions which I had when I first learned about No-Fault divorce: How could any sane person possibly think that this is a good idea? How could this idea not only have gotten started, but even spread through the country to become the law in most states. (Since the book was published, the last of the 50 states adopted it.)

Compared to Stephen Baskerville's Taken into Custody which covers some of the same ground about injustices of "family law", this is a much smaller book and much more conversational, not so filled with footnotes. But also it focuses on the main issue and avoids mixing in other controversial matters such as gender bias and VAWA and right-wing political views. Few people who read Stolen Vows with an open mind will come away unconvinced.

Just a couple of very minor things could make this book even better:

  1. I don't agree with the author's statement in the last chapter that reform must be at a national level because changes in state laws will just send people over the borders to other states with easier divorces. To the contrary, I think that reforms of state laws will be a big help, that this is a more realistic goal than national reform, and that most people can't easily cross state borders to get a divorce without the consent of both spouses. Today most divorce reform work -- such as that by Coalition for Divorce Reform and by Fathers and Families -- is at the state level.
  2. Also, the author perhaps doesn't make sufficiently clear that elimination of unilateral No-Fault divorce is not necessarily forcing people to stay in unwanted marriages. Divorce is not the same as walking out of a marriage, it is a lawsuit. Anybody can walk out the door at any time. The question is whether or not the plaintiff should have a chance to force the defendant out of his/her home and take his or her money and children even though the defendant did nothing wrong.

Unfortunately, this book seems to be out of print now. Used copies are available but sell for quite a lot more than the original price. I got a very beat-up copy of this 180 page paperback for $26, though it was worth every penny. This book is too important to become just a collector's item. The website www.stolenvows.com has some of the key points of the book though.