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Honey, I'm Sending You to a Divorce Ranch!

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In an age when couples can both get married and divorced via a drive-thru window, one former single mom offers a real wake-up call.

cowgirl sitting on fence

Single Mom Seeking: Marilu Norden -- who has fictionalized her own 1950s divorce in her book: Unbridled: A Tale of a Divorce Ranch -- remembers when it wasn't so easy to get a divorce.

That's almost hard to imagine when today, you can find divorce lawyers and support groups in the blink of an eye. But when Norden was 25 -- as well as eight months pregnant and the mother of a 4-year-old -- her dance instructor husband came home and told her that he wanted a divorce.

"I've seen my lawyer and I'm sending you to a divorce ranch in Reno," she recalls him saying to her in their Connecticut home in the early 1950s.

A divorce ranch? "Back in those days, in the Eastern Seaboard states, you had to wait a year and show proof," she explains. "The quickest divorce you could get was in Nevada. If you were a resident of the state for at least six weeks, you could get a 'quickie divorce.' The law became popular with couples who wanted a quick and clean separation, but the question was: where would people stay for six weeks while they waited for the paperwork to come through?"

So, off she went to Nevada, where "soon-to-be divorcees, typically women, would stay as paid guests at the ranches for those six weeks. They had a place to stay, and the fading dude ranches got a shot in the arm with the new business."

Little did her husband -- who was now courting a new dance student -- know that this cattle ranch would actually become "a haven" for her. She got to hang out with wranglers of wild horses, cow-hands, and socialites. (You might recall that Clare Boothe Luce's The Women and Arthur Miller's The Misfits both feature "divorce ranches.")

After leaving the ranch, Norden moved with her two kids to California, where "I had a career as a big band singer, and also met my future husband, who was a clinical psychologist."

They were married for 50 years -- and she had three children with him -- before he passed away in 2007.

Thanks to no-fault divorces in most states now, divorce ranches are a thing of the past. Norden recalls that "in her day, women were not as empowered as they are now," and she adds that "reflecting on that part of American history might be a good lesson for young women today."

"I think it is important for people -- especially today's younger women -- to realize how difficult it was to get a divorce in the 1950s in most states in this country."

Do you agree?

next: Does This Mean I Don't Love My Children?
4 comments so far | Post a comment now
mom of 2 January 26, 2010, 4:58 AM

I think the divorce rate is so high because it is so easy to get. It is much harder to work on your marriage then to run off and get a divorce.

I’ve been married for 5 years now and believe me I’ve had divorce cross my mind a time or two. But instead of taking the easy way I’ve had to sit down and ask myself if the issue was really worth it.

About two years ago we both decided that divorce is not an option for our family. As soon as we took that possibility off the table we got down to fixing our issues and have been much happier.

Black Iris February 13, 2010, 2:36 PM

I think different generations have different problems. Most women now would be better off if men couldn’t divorce them without their consent. And it wouldn’t be unreasonable to require most couples to try counseling and wait a little while.

T March 11, 2010, 11:14 AM

Some states (such as NC) still require 1 year of separation before granting a divorce. I’m still waiting.

Rita Sparos April 6, 2010, 5:57 PM

I think that that in some cases women have benefited from the no-fault divorce system especially those who want to quickly get out of an abusive situation. At the same time though the new system makes most wrong-doing irrelevant, when it really should be. Also, as mentioned, the no-fault system makes it very easy for either spouse to leave their spouse/family without cause. I was a recipient of this in WA state with a newborn and wish that the divorce process had been made more difficult for my ex.

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