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Beneath the Fault Line the Popular and Legal Culture of Divorce in Twentieth-Century America

by J. Herbie Difonzo

  • ISBN: 9780813917078
  • ISBN10: 0813917077

Beneath the Fault Line the Popular and Legal Culture of Divorce in Twentieth-Century America

by J. Herbie Difonzo

  • List Price: $45.00
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • Publisher: Univ of Virginia Pr
  • Publish date: 05/01/1997
  • ISBN: 9780813917078
  • ISBN10: 0813917077
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Description: Only three comprehensive histories of divorce in America have appeared in the twentieth century. Yet the social and legal boundaries of divorce have changed dramatically in recent years, making it an all-too-common occurrence in modern society. In Beneath the Fault Line, law professor and historian J. Herbie DiFonzo juxtaposes legal doctrine and practice with popular culture and individual accounts to illustrate the history of divorce in America.

Debates over the viability of divorce raged from 1880 to 1920. By the end of World War I, however, the religious and societal view that sought to outlaw divorce had lost decisively. During the next fifty years, through the California divorce reforms of the 1970s, cultural perimeters expanded, and the legal arenas of divorce struggled to catch up and meet the customs of the day. DiFonzo's study focuses mainly on the cultural trend toward acceptance, and although he uses formal records such as law texts, statutes, and the decisions of trial and appellate courts, his primary sources are the popular presses of the time, with their opinions, criticisms, and even parodies of divorce and divorce legislation. Early twentieth-century writers warned of divine retribution for divorcees, yet by 1926 one article stated, "We must have divorce ... preferably cheap, easy ... and nobody's business why". By 1945, divorce terminology was part of popular culture: Life described mental cruelty as "anything from a husband's reading too much to his disliking the way his wife cooks steak".

Most historical accounts contend that twentieth-century reforms were attempts to liberalize family law to conform with the ever-increasing demand for divorce. DiFonzo arguesthat these legal tactics were in fact attempts to curb divorce rates by recommending less severe alternatives, such as counseling and therapy. California's no-fault divorce policy, for example, was intended to remove the easy temptation of citing fault and accusations of wrong-doing during divorce proceedings. This policy, however, merely opened the door to higher divorce rates and represents the greater failure of legislation to halt this societal shift.

Beneath the Fault Line is a valuable reatment of divorce in twentieth-century America and should interest students of family law and development, social work, and sociology, as well as a broader audience concerned with the history of the American family.

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