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Divorce, Mexican style

26 July 2009

Elisabeth Malkin visits Mexico City’s divorce court, where — other than the power drill — it sounds like any divorce court anywhere:

…  Under the old law, a divorce could drag on for years, but the judge would grant the divorce and determine the custody arrangements, the amount of child support, the alimony and the division of property all at the same time.

Now, divorced couples battle over those issues through repeated legal motions, so the stacks of documents and morass of delays have not gone away.

The article, focusing on the problems a new “no fault divorce” law is having on the legal process is very good, but The News York Times — as it usually does — makes assumptions about Mexican culture that just aren’t true and which harm the article.

One serious error in Malkin’s article suggests legal divorce was rare or new in Mexico. President Venustiano Carranza signed the law legalizing divorce on Christmas Day 1917*… giving Mexico, at the time, the most liberal divorce laws in the world.   Even up into the late 1960s, given the choice of sitting in the Nevada desert, or laying on the beach in Acapulco, the rich, famous and unhappily married opted for a quicky Mexican divorce.

Divorce — in itself — has never been seen as particularly onerous or shameful to most people.  And, since a lot of people never bother to register their unions in the first place, a lot of divorces are from those who only register a marriage when they need a divorce to divide joint property.

Malkin’s figures for the rising divorce rate are correct, but misleading.  The Mexican census calculates divorces per 100 marriages, which creates what looks like an alarming rise in the divorce rate from 7.4 per 100 marriages to 13 per 100 since 2000.  Very few countries (mostly in western Europe) use these parameters.  Of the twenty listed in “Nation Master” , Mexico’s divorce rate is the lowest on that list comes in 20th, about half that of the next lowest figure (Greece) and almost a third that of third from the bottom, Poland.

Normally,  divorce rates are usually calculated by the number of divorced people in every 1000. By those statistics, the United States leads the pack (at 4.95 per thousand), followed by Puerto Rico and Russia. Mexico comes in 31st place at a measly 0.33 per thousand.

The big problem I have (and whether it’s Malkin’s assumptions, or those of her editors, I can’t say), comes with the assumption that any social change in Mexico somehow reflects its being a  “Catholic” country.  Mexico is  no more “Catholic” than France or the Czech Republic.  And France while also known for its intellectual anti-clerical tradition, didn’t separate the Church and State until 1905, something Mexico did in 1854.

Besides, Catholicism doesn’t seem to have much to do with a low divorce rate.  Panama, Portugal, El Salvador, Ecuador and even Chile (where divorce has only been legal for a couple of years) — all “Catholic” countries — have higer divorce rates than Mexico.

* Perhaps the Times’ copy editors might be able to get shareholder Carlos Slim to spring for a book that includes this kind of useful information.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 26 July 2009 6:58 am

    New York Times coverage drives me crazy. I have to disagree with you slightly, however. Mexico has done a much more thorough job of separating church and state than the US (something that was slipping under PAN but seems to be correcting itself). And I certainly agree that few Mexicans are doctrinaire Catholics. And an increasing number don’t go to church. But somehow a huge number are still Catholic, in the way that secular Jews are still Jewish, perhaps. I think this is important to remember. Thus, they have abortions without guilt (something telenovelas try to discourage) on the one hand and may cross themselves when they walk past churches, on the other, as a petty example. I just think cultural/historical threads are much more a part of Mexicans’ personalities (and they vary depending on where and what status they come from) than such are in the US, unless you consider, which you can, that the absence of such threads — the kind of living in the immediate present in a non-Buddhist way that characterizes certain chunks of the American population — is a cultural thread, too. women’s clothes). I find that I still feel like I don’t know much: sometimes the more I learn the less I know. But I think the NY Times needs to learn to think in shades of gray (as they say) and not make assumptions about Catholicism in Mexico.

  2. Oscar L. Lopez permalink
    17 November 2009 7:01 am

    after two years of seperation is a mexican couple automaticaly divorced? legally

    • 17 November 2009 12:28 pm

      No, but its spousal abandonment is grounds for divorce.

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