In the year 2000, my mom and Dad got divorced. He left my then 57-year-old mom for another woman. But this wasn’t the first time he’d cheated — his philanderings had begun back in the 70's.
“Why didn’t leave him way back then?” I recently asked my mom. “Don’t you wish you had?”
“Delaine, it was a different time,” she replied with a smile. “I know it’s hard for you to imagine, but women didn’t have the same rights back then and divorce was a scary option.”
She then explained that not only was there no spousal support laws in Canada, the social stigmas attached to being a ‘divorcee’ were hideous. In social circles where she moved, everything was done in couples, and divorcees were looked down on and seen as untrustworthy, immoral tramps.
When my dad’s first affair was exposed back then, my mom had sought professional counseling. “I was told I needed to be a better wife,” my mom said, shaking her head. “Our sessions were about what I was doing wrong, how I wasn’t meeting the needs of your Dad, and how I could improve.”
She continued: “I was brought to believe that my role at home as a mother and wife was the most important thing on Earth. And I vowed to keep my family together whatever the personal cost to myself.”
I sat there with my mouth agape, appalled, horrified, angry. How dare my mother, or any woman, be blamed for her husband’s cheating! And God, what a burden for my then twenty-something mother to have carried all alone as she went about caring for and managing a household of four children. Yet she had hidden it from us kids so well.
I hadn’t realized how restrictive our divorce laws were for women in Canada such a short time ago. Out of curiosity I researched our country’s history of spousal support and discovered that it wasn’t until the mid-eighties that it became part of our laws. Prior to its implementation, the law only required a 50/50 division in property and assets/liabilities; but that meant many women were left scrambling to start a career from scratch, having committed most of their work lives to being a homemaker. No surprise then that studies showed that in the first year after divorce, women suffered a 42% decrease in their standard of living, whereas men experienced an increase of 73%. Changes needed to be made.