There is a horrible and very public divorce case going on now, pitting Bai MacFarlane vs. Bud MacFarlane. [Not the Bud MacFarlane of the Reagan scandals, by the way.] They were, up to now, professional Catholics. He runs the Mary Foundation, and has written Catholic apocalyptic novels. She was the happy Catholic mom who home schooled their four boys.
Then he dumped her.
One of the public issues in this case has been whether the civil courts should take any account of the religious vows, and the decisions of the religious courts, in determining custody.
I was drawn by another issue. He did not want to pay enough child support to allow her to stay home and continue home schooling their children. Instead, he sued to make her get a job. The court sided with him; she refused to comply; he got custody and put the kids in school, including full day care for the two year old.
The court was forced to judge whether an at-home, home-schooling spouse had a right to keep living the life to which she had become accustomed – indeed, to which she was religiously committed – or whether each individual is obliged to get a job and be self-supporting. Thus far, the court has taken the individualist side of this argument, not the marital side.
I asked a family court judge whether no fault has a presumption against home schooling. He replied that “DIVORCE has a bias against home schooling, fault or no-fault.” In theory, a fault standard of divorce would give the innocent spouse some claim for continuing to get enough support to keep home schooling. In practice, though, “the majority of the time most courts (in my opinion) would likely find such a result inequitable in the event that it rendered the ‘at-fault’ spouse unable to maintain some semblance of a residence. And, in most circumstances, it would.”
Most institutions in our culture now presume two incomes for a middle class or better life. This is not simply an economic fact, but is the result of legal and policy decisions to treat everyone as an individual before the law, and not as part of a family, or even a marriage. No-fault divorce laws do presuppose two-income marriages – but so does the rest of social life.