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21st Century Splitsville

August 02, 2004

Marriage and its antonym seem to have been in the news considerably in recent days. Massachusetts courts, which previously approved gay marriage, have now approved offspring divorce -- that is, a child divorcing a parent. The case, involving 14-year-old Patrick Holland, who divorced himself from a father convicted of killing his mother, is a sad one for sure. But the resulting precedent is intriguing. Why confine it to criminal cases? Your parents ground you for something silly like a cellphone bill exceeding Paraguay's national debt. Divorce them. You're no longer responsible for their unpaid bills.

Americans, who become particularly divisive in presidential leap years, might apply this creative divorce approach in fascinating new ways. And boost income for impoverished trial lawyers. Say you dislike your neighbor. Ever since he began plucking your flowers. You file court papers -- no-fault, of course -- and he must leave the street. Really simple. Even if he stays, there's an all-American sense of renewal in terminating relationships, even nonexistent ones.

Or you have a boss who doesn't offer the attention and esteem reinforcement you expected when the employment relationship began. Papers. Court. The boss is history. Or an annoying in-law.

Say your teen displays an infuriating forgetfulness and deafness usually associated with centenarians. Boom, D-I-V-O-R-C-E. Or possible trial separation allowing for reconciliation before divvying the communal sports and rock posters. The simple legal move also saves a bundle on car insurance and tuitions.

Americans have always liked disposability. Something, someone or somewhere doesn't work out, toss it and go West. We change presidents every few years, clothing fashions every few months. Dump the old, bring in the new. (Have you tried getting a toaster fixed recently?) Friends, spouses. Irreconcilable differences between thee and them? Divorce yourself and move on. It's good to own much of a continent. People in Belgium have to get along or they are sent across the street to France. Here, we move a few hundred miles to start polluting a new place. It's worked for 200 years.

Come to think of it, while expanding the ideas of divorce and marriage and who can get them, why stop with people we know? That's so old-fashioned and restrictive, another legacy no doubt of Puritanical forefathers and foremothers.

Why not have one-way marriages? Modern. Hip. In front of friends and family, people simply declare they're married to, say, Tom Selleck or Sandra Bullock. The other party need not know about it. One-way marriages would spread bliss and stability even to unlikely altar candidates. Not to mention saving on rings. And your new tax dependent. You could divorce an unknowing life partner after his or her next bad movie. Or April 15.

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