The Next Front in the GOP’s War on Women: No-Fault Divorce

Steven Crowder, the right-wing podcaster, is getting a divorce. “No, this was not my choice,” Crowder told his online audience last week. “My then-wife decided that she didn’t want to be married anymore — and in the state of Texas, that is completely permitted.”

Crowder’s emphasis on “the state of Texas” makes it sound like the Lone Star State is an outlier, but all 50 states and the District of Columbia have no-fault divorce laws on the books — laws that allow either party to walk away from an unhappy marriage without having to prove abuse, infidelity, or other misconduct in court.

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It was a hard-fought journey to get there. It took more than four decades to end fault-based divorce in America: California was the first state to eliminate it, in 1969; New York didn’t come around until 2010. (And there are caveats: Mississippi and South Dakota still only allow no-fault divorce if both parties agree to dissolve the marriage, for example.)

Researchers who tracked the emergence of no-fault divorce laws state by state over that period found that reform led to dramatic drops in the rates of female suicide and domestic violence, as well as decreases in spousal homicide of women. The decreases, one researcher explained, were “not just because abused women (and men) could more easily divorce their abusers, but also because potential abusers knew that they were more likely to be left.”

Today, more than two-thirds of all heterosexual divorces in the U.S. are initiated by women.

Republicans across the country are now reconsidering no-fault divorce. There isn’t a huge mystery behind the campaign: Like the crusades against abortion and contraception, making it more difficult to leave an unhappy marriage is about control. Crowder’s home state could be the first to eliminate it, if the Texas GOP gets its way. Last year, the Republican Party of Texas added language to its platform calling for an end to no-fault divorce: “We urge the Legislature to rescind unilateral no-fault divorce laws, to support covenant marriage, and to pass legislation extending the period of time in which a divorce may occur to six months after the date of filing for divorce.”

The Texas GOP retains an iron grip on both chambers of the state Legislature, and Republicans hold every single elected office statewide — from governor and lieutenant governor to the railroad commissioners and judges. Should they decide to prioritize ending no-fault divorce this legislative session, they would likely have the votes they need to turn their platform into law.

It’s not just Texas: A similar proposal is presently being workshopped by the Republican Party of Louisiana. The Nebraska GOP has affirmed its belief that no-fault divorce should only be accessible to couples without children. At the Republican National Convention in 2016 — the last time the party platform was overhauled — delegates considered adding language declaring, “Children are made to be loved by both natural parents united in marriage. Legal structures such as No Fault Divorce, which divides families and empowers the state, should be replaced by a Fault-based Divorce.” (It’s unclear whether the party’s twice-divorced nominee for president weighed in on the debate at that time.)

Despite its deeply embarrassing premise — that the only way to retain a partner is to literally trap them in the relationship — right-wing blowhards like Crowder have been embracing arguments against no-fault divorce with increasing frequency. (Within the past year, conservative pundits Matt WalshMichael KnowlesTim Pool have all criticized it.)

Crowder first complained about no-fault divorce in a segment last April, when his divorce proceedings were already underway. “There need to be changes to marital laws, and I’m not even talking about same-sex marriage … I’m talking about divorce laws, talking about alimony laws, talking about child-support laws.”

Incidentally, Crowder’s position may actually have been worse if Texas still had fault-based divorce: Days after he announced he and his wife had separated last week, a 2021 video emerged of the podcaster berating his wife, eight months pregnant at the time with the couple’s twins, for her failure to do “wifely things.” It’s the kind of hard evidence that one could offer in court to bolster her case that her partner was the one at fault — and, in the past, that may have impacted the division of assets.

Unnervingly, it wouldn’t necessarily take a vote of the Legislature to end no-fault divorce in Texas. With the right argument, a motivated plaintiff could bring the case before a sympathetic judge — and there happens to be one sitting on the federal bench in Amarillo who has expressed such ideas. Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk — who has issued rulings attacking access to birth control and mifepristone, a critical component of the abortion pill — repeatedly bemoaned the idea that the “sexual revolution” ushered in a world of “permissive contraception policies,” abortion — and no-fault divorce.

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