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September 18, 2004
Column #1,203 

                             Mutual Consent Divorce Reform
 
     Last weekend every American thought deeply about the 3,000 Americans who
lost their lives on 9/11/01. The terrorism destroyed 3,000 families.

     Yet since that date, there have been 3 million divorces that shattered the lives of 3 million children. That calamity was 1,000 times worse yet no one thinks about it,
except family members in 3 million demolished civilizations.

     The rest of us must care, and take steps to spare future families.

     The impact is greatest on the innocent, the children. Children of divorce are twice as likely to drop out of school as those from intact homes, three times as apt to have a baby out of wedlock, five-fold more likely to be in poverty and 12 times more apt to be incarcerated.

      "Contrary to what we have long thought, the major impact of divorce does not occur during childhood or adolescence. Rather, it rises in adulthood as serious romantic relationships move center stage. When it comes time to choose a life mate and build a new family, the effects of divorce crescendo," wrote Judith Wallerstein after following 100 children of  divorce for 25 years after parental divorce, in her landmark book, "The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce."

     Only 60 of the100, now aged 27-43, had ever married vs. 84 percent of those from intact families. And 25 of the 60 had already divorced, leaving only a third who built lasting marriages.

     What is achingly needed is to reform No-Fault Divorce. It could save hundreds of
thousands of marriages now terminated too hastily.

     Ironically, No-Fault was once seen as a reform.

      "In New York and New England for most of the 20th Century, adultery was the only grounds for divorce. People who wanted divorce did negotiate the terms of their divorce and agree by mutual consent. But they'd have to fake pictures of adultery and lie in court," says John Crouch of Americans for Divorce Reform.

      No-Fault removed lies by allowing a spouse to exit unilaterally without proving the other guilty of a major fault, such as adultery, abandonment or abuse.

     The result?

     1. A 1998 study reports No-Fault Laws caused a 17 percent increase in divorce rates.

     2. Divorced women and their children suffered economically. Prior to No-Fault, wives were awarded 60 percent or more of the property. If a man wanted a divorce, he's have to bargain with his wife, making economic concessions to obtain her consent. Assets are now divided equally, and since women often dropped out of the work force to raise children, they are less able to support themselves.

     3. "The system rewards those who lie, cheat and steal and use kids as a weapon to alienate the other person," says Crouch. "No fault denies you the right to be married in the sense that people have understood marriage for centuries. It makes it an arrangement that is for the time being. Marriage has historically been a contract in which people "forsake all others" giving each a reason to invest their energies to make the marriage work for both of you and the children. Any complicated high investment human endeavor, such as building a skyscraper, requires an enforceable contract. If you allow one person to abrogate the contract, you can't rely on it."

     4.  The Constitution's guarantee of "due process" is lost. "ALL legal rights in a divorce are extended to the divorcer, because the one who wants to save the marriage loses EVERY TIME," complains Billy Miller of Louisiana.

     That may sound un-American, but it is very American. No other nation allows unilateral divorce, which is why the United States has the world's highest divorce rate.

     What's needed is "Mutual Consent Divorce" to replace No-Fault. What was entered into by two people should not be exited unless both parties agree. 

     Of course, divorce could be granted if one person was guilty of adultery, physical abuse, etc. However, two-thirds of divorces do not even involve major conflict.

     One person is unhappy and wants out. If that person had to negotiate with a spouse to exit the marriage, there would be fewer divorces and fewer wounded children. The spouse who wants to save the marriage would have leverage. And divorces would be fairer to all parties.

     Mutual Consent Divorce is opposed by divorce attorneys who dominate Judiciary
Committees in Legislatures. However, this is a political season. State legislators want your vote. Ask if they support Mutual Consent Divorce.

     A Family Policy Council affiliated with Focus on the Family in one major state has
persuaded the governor and legislative leaders to back Mutual Consent. 

     Yet not one religious denomination has called for this reform. Why?

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