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Divorce can't be just the pursuit of happiness

Anyone who's read this column over the past 10 years knows that I'm an immigration lawyer by profession.

ANYONE who's read this column over the past 10 years knows that I'm an immigration lawyer by profession. It makes its way into the conversation every month or so, either directly (as when I'm pleading with my conservative friends to realize that branding someone "illegal" is a political death wish) or indirectly (as when I use examples from my own life to point out how hypocritical the left is - and has always been - about human rights). That column I wrote comparing the young Pakistani girl shot through the head by the Taliban to condom crusader Sandra Fluke garnered inclusion in the Atlantic's "50 Worst Articles of 2012." I couldn't be prouder.

So, you shouldn't be surprised that I'm going back to the immigration well to prove a point that, frankly, has nothing to do with immigration.

Last week, I was talking to an acquaintance about a case I had involving a woman who'd been beaten by her husband (while pregnant) and was desperate to get out of the relationship. Unfortunately, she wasn't legally in the United States, and her prince of a spouse was using her immigration status to blackmail her. He threatened to call the authorities if she left him, promising that she'd be deported if she tried to escape.

Fortunately, she had the presence of mind to call a friend, who called another friend, who called me (that is how most immigration lawyers are found, which I am sure will make my friends in the classifieds department grit their teeth, but it's the truth.) After I explained to her that there was a way to obtain legal protection through what we in the business call a Battered Spouse Petition, she had the courage to leave her despicable spouse.

When I told the acquaintance about these events, she nodded solemnly and said, "Thank God for no-fault divorce." Not quite understanding her point (since we were talking about saving a woman's life, not dividing up communal assets), I said, "Divorce has nothing to do with this. The woman was being abused."

And this is where the non-immigration part of my pseudo-immigration column starts. My acquaintance started to go on about how, yes, it's important for abused women to be able to get divorced and "isn't it fantastic!" that it's a lot easier than it used to be. But, she continued, a person doesn't have to be in fear of her life to walk out of a bad situation.

I asked her what she meant by "bad." She said that any relationship that doesn't make us happy is a relationship that deserves to end.

This is where it got interesting. Never having been married myself, I can't presume to be an expert on the topic of connubial bliss. I can, however, comment upon what happens when some people decide that being happy is more important than honoring your commitments, than trying to work it out, than having more compassion for your kids than concern for your comfort.

I've met a number of people over the years who think that they are "entitled" to be happy. It is quite true that the Declaration of Independence guarantees the right to pursue happiness, but there is that implicit understanding that it can't be had at the expense of someone else. Unfortunately, the enlightened masses of the 21st century believe that it's much better to walk out of a situation that no longer fits than to make an effort to salvage it, all because we are convinced that those who live in our orbit will be happy if we, ourselves, are happy.

I can't tell you how many times I've had to bite my tongue when some recently-separated man or woman tells me that they aren't worried about the effect a divorce will have on the children. To them, the little ones will be so much better off if Mummy and Pops are smiling. These people are not stupid. They're not even brainwashed by the pseudo-psychologists who sit on Oprah and Rachel and Katie's couches and tell us that "for better and for worse" is masochistic.

These people really believe that their own welfare is at the center of the universe, and that getting a divorce is no different than getting a mole removed. If you don't like the way something looks or feels, you simply cut it out. And if you have kids, well, they'll get used to it because they love you.

That didn't wash with the great Nora Ephron, a brilliant social observer. Here's what she had to say about the effects of divorce on children:

"People say things like, 'It's better for children not to grow up with their parents in an unhappy marriage.' But unless parents are beating each other up, or abusing the children, kids are better off if their parents are together."

That's quite a radical thought these days. Pretty sad, huh?