Alternative Forms of Marriage Serial Monogramy

About the alternative form of marriage known as serial monogamy achieved through multiple divorces and remarriages, history of the practice and people who have them.

Alternate Forms of Marriage


The Practice: Serial monogamy through divorce, once almost exclusively the province of kings and queens (at least in the Western Christian world), is now available to Everyperson. And Everyperson is taking advantage of it. Statistics tell the story. In the years between 1860 and 1972 in the U.S., the number of divorces rose 112 times, while the number of people rose only 6 to 7 times. Moreover, the number of divorces has more than doubled since 1960.

In ancient Rome, serial monogamy among the powerful was rife. All a Roman man had to do to divorce a spouse married by civil law (usus, the least binding of three types of marriage) was send a messenger with a note saying, "Take your things away." One Roman divorced his wife just because she went to the games without telling him.

The struggle between Church and State over the control of marriage laws, and consequently divorce, has been won mostly by the Church. Great men, often personally involved in bad marriages, touted divorce without much effect on the status quo; among them, Plato, Aristotle, Pericles, Francis Bacon, Lord Nelson, Robert Burns, Lord Byron, and Benjamin Franklin. The poet John Milton wrote in 1643 a book called The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, probably in reaction to his year-old, fast-souring marriage with the frivolous Mary Powell. And Henry VIII probably obtained the most difficult and highly publicized divorce in history when he succeeded in ridding himself of his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, in order to marry Anne Boleyn.

The hold of the Church was still psychologically important even after government control of divorce became paramount. Most people frowned on it for moral reasons until quite recently. Utopian Robert Owen suggested in 1833 that divorce should be available to any couple who mutually desired it, but the law in most states in the U.S. allowed divorce only for specific grounds such as adultery and desertion until a century later (and some states still have very tough laws).

After the Revolution in Russia, a man could divorce his wife (or the other way around) just by sending a postcard announcing his intentions. This practice was outlawed when it became apparent that far too many divorced Russians were unaware of their status, which, of course, may have been more the fault of the Russian postal system than of a loose divorce law.

In Arab countries, divorce for men has been easy. All an Arab need do to divorce his wife is say three times, "I divorce thee."

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