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East German Minister of Justice, Hilde Benjamin: "Who Has the Say in the Family?" (February 1, 1958)

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However, such a “clean” divorce is only possible if the woman does not remain economically dependent after the divorce, but can earn her own living. We must also not ignore that a burden on the man, imposed by alimony claims from the divorced wife, can impair his interest in work and thus his active participation in the building of Socialism, especially if he has established a new family. Which means that from this perspective, as well, we must carefully examine the question of when and under what conditions a divorced wife shall be entitled to support from her former husband.

We have therefore established the following as a legal principle: with the divorce of a marriage, all material relationships between the spouses are also dissolved. Alimony can be required from the man for a period of two years, so that a woman who was not gainfully employed, either previously or during her marriage, can achieve economic independence – for example, by acquiring vocational training.

However, we must not ignore that this basic rule does not resolve all questions that arise under today’s conditions for divorce when it comes to support for a divorced wife. We must see the contradictions that are still present here, as well, and we must try to solve them through a flexible legal arrangement. Should the woman who has not previously had a profession, and who can also no longer learn or engage in a vocation, have a claim to support from her husband? This is closely connected to the question of the extent to which such a woman should share in the husband’s earnings. We have therefore allowed for an exception to this basic rule: where the woman, because of her age, her health, or because she has to care for small children, cannot become economically self-sufficient, the man is obligated to provide support beyond two years.

Here, I would also like to address a problem that has very much preoccupied women in our country. I am talking about the phenomenon that in a number of cases, men, after decades of marriage, demand a divorce from their elderly wives under spurious pretexts. They especially like to claim that the wife has not grown alongside them ideologically, that she is impeding the man’s development through her backwardness. This disrespect of the wife who stood by her husband’s side for decades, who used herself up in years of caring for the household and raising the children, who is no longer able to use the equality she has been given today and become an independent person, amounts to a serious violation of the principle of women’s equality. The High Court has expressed in a guideline that the preconditions under which such a long marriage should be dissolved must be examined especially rigorously, and that the general rule should be that such old marriages can be severed only if there are extraordinarily serious grounds.

If women’s equality in the family is illustrated by the fact that she has an equal say in all family matters, this is especially true for questions that are especially important to a woman, namely how the children should be raised and cared for. We know that this was not always so; the Civil Code gave the final right of decision-making to the husband in these matters as well. The “parental power” over minor children mentioned in the Civil Code was in reality a paternal power. We have not only turned parental “power” into parental care, but have also, and above all, made the parent-child relationships – this parental “care” – into relationships in which both parental partners have truly equal rights.

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