Why Marital Status? Interview with Mandy Walker, Divorce Coach, Mediator

Mandy Walker is a divorce coach, mediator and CDFA® based in Boulder, Colorado. She works with individuals and couples helping them to end their relationships with dignity and respect so they don’t feel they’re going through divorce alone, so they’ll understand the process and their options and so they can feel confident in the decisions they’re making.

English by birth, Mandy studied Business Administration at the University of Bath, England. In 1986 she emigrated to the United States and spent the next twenty years working in financial services in customer service and operations. Of the many hats Mandy wore during that time, she was responsible for handling formal customer complaints and major service resolution issues giving her a solid foundation in dispute resolution.

NP:  Marriage and marital status appears to have a convoluted cultural, social, religious, civil, libidinous and related history within patriarchal traditions. Is marital status an anachronism today given the variety of relationships in existence?  

Walker: I do believe that marital status is an anachronism and it’s not just because of the variety of relationships in existence. It has a lot to do with changing gender roles in our society. That’s not limited to just more women in the workplace. The role of fathers in our culture has changed significantly in the last thirty years, too.

What I see is a confusion between marital status and life experience. Divorce is a life experience; widowhood is a life experience. Even marriage is a life experience. Once you see it that way, you narrow down marital status to married or single. But to your point, this completely fails to capture the rich variety of relationships, legal or otherwise. It’s tempting to try to expand on the categories for marital status but what we really should be asking is why do you need to know? Why is my marital status or my living situation any business of yours?

I’ve found that asking for marital status is usually a proxy for some other information and whoever designed the form is making assumptions or being lazy. Let’s take a doctor’s office, for example. When I’ve asked why they need to know my marital status, I’ve been told that they need to know who is carrying the insurance. That’s a completely different question. Sometimes, I’ve been told it’s so that they know who to contact in an emergency. Again, That’s a completely different question.

When I applied for car insurance, I asked the agent why they needed to know my marital status and I was told that I would want to check “divorced” (which I am) because that would mean lower rates than a never-married person. But to my earlier point, this is not about your current marital status; this is really about your life experiences.

I am curious to see how marital status is captured on the U.S. census but apart from this, I don’t know why any business needs to be asking for marital status.

 NP: In ancient unions between partners, in general marriage it appears was in varied forms about property. That is the wife was at times viewed as property like other animals in the familial structure. What I’m suggesting is that marital status seems to imply a form power, possession (property) and control. Does marital status in a sense signify that people are a product for misleading purposes, marketing, etc., based on the desire for control and money?

Walker: Not to make sweeping generalizations … but certainly in a number of Western cultures like America and England (my birthplace), when a woman married, she did become the property of her husband. And whatever she had as possessions prior to that became her husband’s. If she did earn any money, it was her husband’s and children of the marriage were considered as belonging to the husband. That’s not all. If a woman didn’t marry, it was because something was wrong with her coupled with a very real concern about how she would be supported financially. There are all these very uncomplimentary terms used to refer to an unmarried woman … spinster … old maid … on the shelf. No such terms exist for men. Men may have created these patriarchal rules but the trails of these are so embedded in our societal norms that many of us are unaware of submitting to the power and control.

There are a couple of beautiful scenes in 2019 Little Women movie that remind us of this and references through Downton Abbey in which the substantial finances of Cora Crawley, the wealthy American became Robert Crawley’s on their marriage.

Thankfully, we’ve come a long way. Married people in the U.S. no longer have a tax advantage over single people but it’s shocking that this only went away in 2018.

We do still live in a very coupled society where single people are often discounted, disregarded, overlooked or made to feel they’re a complication. Look at the travel industry for tours and cruises to see lots of examples with single supplements and even the lack of availability of single rooms.

I see less event pricing now where tickets for couples are discounted relative to the cost of buying two separate tickets and I see that as a positive. I also love that restaurants can now easily do separate checks – that makes it easier for single people to socialize with couples without feeling that splitting the check is overly complicated.

NP:  Is there a need to focus more om skill sets, personality and capabilities, experience and education if applicable rather than whether one is single, married, divorced, separated, and so forth?  Is any mention about sex, gender and marital status obsolete in the 21st century?

Walker: I can’t think of any situation except for dating, where a conversation about marital status is the slightest bit relevant. And certainly, from an employment standpoint, the skills, experience and knowledge that individuals bring to the workplace are far more meaningful than outdated labels. I think a person’s living situation is private information that they should not be obligated to share.

NP:  When such categories are applied to applications whether for a job or a dating site, are such categories hypocritical considering the actions of people? Do such categorizes say more about the people designing the algorithms rather than the people applying or filling in the forms?  Is it accurate to suggest that matching a job or a date would seem to be less about marital status than about the inner workings of an interrelated marketing and profiling system?

Walker: I know this is one of my pet peeves so I am hyper alert to paperwork that asks for marital status. When it’s asked, I think it’s usually because no one has actually stopped to question why and if the information is really needed. It’s more likely that it’s on the current application form and someone just assumes it still has to be.

I think marital status and dating is bit different. I still don’t see the need to ask for marital status. It’s more about being honest on your profile about the type of relationship you’re looking for. Then it’s about clear and open communication from the beginning. If you’re look for a monogamous relationship, say that. If you’re in an open marriage, say that. If you’re poly-amorous, say that. If you can’t be honest on your profile, then the person you’re hurting the most is yourself.