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  • Divorce, Italian Style

    Learn about a fairly new trend in Italian marriage known as "separato in casa" or "separated in the home."
    Our Paesani

    By Francesca Di Meglio

    The Italy I knew as a child revolved around la famiglia. Everyone's family was huge, full of kids and cousins and love. If you didn't live in the same house, you lived on the same street or within minutes of your extended family. Every Sunday was a celebration with all the relatives getting together and eating like it was Thanksgiving and laughing as if it was April Fool's. Strong marriages were at the heart of this familial bond. Married people never parted ways.

    Certainly, staying together was all the more valued because of the Catholic faith of most Italians I knew. But that wasn't the entire reason. The culture demanded families stay together. As I grew older, I realized that wasn't always right. And I noticed that some of those marriages weren't as strong as they appeared.

    Some of the older relatives, who were basically in arranged marriages fought like animals. Some of the men were especially harsh and difficult with their wives. They may have been physically abusive behind closed doors; we may never know for sure. People drew a blind eye to it all back then. Even in the best of marriages, where the couple found love, they were still products of the patriarchal times in which they were living. The Italian culture supported that behavior.

    But times are changing. Today, women don't have to put up with that kind of behavior anymore. Cheating on both sides happens, and no one feels obligated to stick around. ISTAT reported that in 1995 there were 158 separations and 80 divorces every 1,000 marriages, compared to 2011 when they rose to 311 and 182, respectively.

    There's a newfound freedom that allows couples to fall out of love, focus on other goals besides family, and break up for just about any reason. Those who are homosexual feel more comfortable pursuing same-sex relationships, for instance. Just as it has in other Western countries, divorce has become more commonplace in recent years. Actually, lots of couples I know never tie the knot in the first place. They have children together out of wedlock. The main reason, as far as I can tell from my experiences and friendships in Italy, is property. No marriage means finances can remain completely separate.

    While I don't have any numbers to support this as a statistical trend, I have noticed more couples being "separato in casa" or "separated in the house." This means that the couple agrees to pursue other relationships and live separate lives but neither leaves the house. It seems grueling to me. In some cases, the one spouse has cheated and is already with another person, and the ex-spouse has to witness this unfolding newer relationship. Their children are, of course, in the house with them. There's more arguing. But it costs them much less than going through with divorce. It keeps the fight for property alive and well. If one of them leaves, the other would likely end up with the property. The whole trend makes me a little sick. It seems like every other week I hear about another couple agreeing to this.

    I haven't seen any information on being separato in casa. It may very well be that this trend is more popular in Ischia, the island of my ancestors and husband, because there isn't much property to begin with. And, by law, no one can build anymore because Ischia is the "green island" and therefore must remain pristine in certain areas. Still, this notion of living with your ex indefinitely and pursuing other relationships while technically married is the reality for many people I know.

    Anyone who still has family in the Boot recognizes the role property plays in everything related to la famiglia. Perhaps, for years now you've been arguing with Zio Matteo over who really owns that piece of farmland, where your family once kept a donkey, cow, and some goats. So, perhaps, you can understand what's happening with divorce in Italy.

    Italian culture, especially in the south, still calls for a husband (and his family) to provide the home and a wife (and her family) to pay for the wedding. That's slowly changing, too, with women working and couples marrying later in life, when they might pay for the wedding and the home together. For now, however, it is enough of an accepted practice that many husbands (and their families) fear women are just out to get a house, especially since the economy has been on the rocks. Of course, gold digging goes both ways. There are men looking for women and their money, too. That's not the point, though. The point is that there's a fear of having to leave property, usually property that has been in the family for generations, to a wife or husband, especially in the case of divorce. It's usually a messy situation because la famiglia is already involved in the property. It's not always a clear-cut line between husband and wife. So, the marriage is at odds with the family from the start.

    As a result, when things sour, the couple often doesn't know what to do. This was compounded by the fact that in Italy, people used to have to wait a minimum of three years before a divorce could be settled. My husband tells me that the idea was to give couples a chance to reconsider. But a new law in 2015 changed the law, so that you only have to wait six months. The divorce rate for the elderly rose dramatically after the law changed, according to International Business Times. I don't know, however, if those elderly really free themselves by moving out of their marital homes afterward. I wonder.

    You can read more about all things Italian and living the dolce vita on the Italian Mamma blog, and you can follow Di Meglio at Italian Mamma on Facebook or on Twitter @ItalianMamma10.

    Article Published 8/21/16


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