These parties include the spouses, the children, the families, and the state. A settlement may be reached based on utilitarian individualism, a decision based on the self-interest of the spouses. It may also be reached through the process of utilitarian republicanism, an outcome based on what is best for the public, or the biblical traditions of morality. In fact, the outcome of a divorce, and the subsequent settlement agreements, will be a mixture of multiple ethical models. While the decision to get a divorce has moved farther towards utilitarian individualist attitudes, the outcome is still heavily influenced by civic republicanism and biblical traditions.
The divorce process has traditionally been monitored and totally controlled by social institutions outside the interested family. Churches discouraged divorce through the threat of excommunication and damnation. The state regulated divorce through a series of laws and courts designed not only to protect everyone's interest and serve justice, but to minimize the impact on society. The state took the utilitarian stand that the outcome of a divorce needs to produce the greatest public good possible. Before the recent innovation of no-fault divorce and private spousal agreements, "Divorce was granted only after an official inquiry by a judge, who had to determine whether "appropriate grounds"-very narrowly defined in terms of marital offenses-existed. When a divorce was granted, the state asserted broad authority to structure the economic relationship of the spouses and to maintain regulatory jurisdiction over the children and their relationship to the parents" (Mnookin and Kornhauser 953). Today, liberalized divorce laws and private divorce agreements have moved the desirable outcome of a divorce from the public good and into the private good. Bellah's contention that we are moving further into a utilitarian society, at a social cost (in this case divorce), is evidenced by the move from a concern for the public good, as dictated by the courts, to the private happiness sought through today's easy path to divorce.
When a spouse, or a couple, make the decision to get divorced the decision is made based on the self-interest of one or both parties. Without a utilitarian attitude, couples may be more prone to stay together out of concern for their children and the health of the family unit. They may subscribe to behaviors that they may find disagreeable or burdensome. John Stuart Mill defined utilitarianism as the Happiness Principle which "holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure" (15). Happiness, and the absence of pain, are the moral standards by which utilitarianism makes its choice. Staying in a painful marriage may be made by other moral systems, but utilitarianism would endure it only if the happiness and stability of the family brought a greater reward to the injured spouse than the act of divorce.
While divorce in the past was highly stigmatized, today it is commonplace. The social stigmatization of staying single has also been reduced and "Divorce as a solution to an unhappy marriage, even a marriage with young children, is far more acceptable today than ever before" (Bellah et al. 90). Our