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October 8, 2008
Column #1,415
"How to Cut America's Divorce Rate in Half"
by Mike McManus

In four out of five divorces, one spouse opposes it, according to Frank Furstenburg and Andrew Cherlin in their book, "Divided Families."

Yet the unwilling spouse is always forced into divorce due to "No Fault Divorce" laws in 49 states.  It is called No Fault, because one does not have to prove a spouse is guilty of faults - adultery or physical abuse - but can claim "irreconcilable differences" and always get the divorce.

That's unfair to a spouse who believes the marriage IS reconcilable.

       And it is tragic for their children.  In "Twice Adopted:" Michael Reagan described his pain when his parents, Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman, divorced: "Divorce is where two adults take everything that matters to a child - the child's home, family, security and sense of being loved and protected - and they smash it all up, leave it in ruins on the floor, then walk out and leave the child to clean up the mess."

Ironically, California Gov. Ronald Reagan signed the first No Fault Law in 1969. Years later he told Michael that it was his "greatest regret." No Fault laws quickly swept the nation. The number of divorces soared 63 percent from 639,000 in 1969 to 1,036,000 by 1975.

Clergy bless 86 percent of marriages, who often quote Jesus: "What God has joined together, let no man put asunder." Since 1970 America has put asunder 43 million marriages involving 41 million children.

No Fault is also unconstitutional. The 5th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution guarantee that "no person be deprived of life, liberty or property without the due process of law." Yet how can there be "due process" if the spouse opposing the divorce always loses?

Therefore, I've written a short book, "How To Cut America's Divorce Rate in Half: A Strategy Every State Should Adopt." (See www.MarriageSavers.org.) My answer is simple.  I argue that couples with minor children should be required "to obtain written mutual consent for the dissolution of their marriage," unless fault is proven.

Why?  The state knows that children are best brought up by their own married parents.  Children of divorce are three times as likely as those from intact homes to be expelled from school, to get pregnant as teens, are five times as apt to live in poverty and up to 12 times as likely to be incarcerated.

Present law is "rigged to destroy families, not to preserve them," I argue. It favors the person least interested in giving children a secure home.  Reforming No Fault to require Mutual Consent would give an equal voice to the spouse most committed to children and the marriage. This would not save every marriage, but both legal experts and religious leaders agree: "I believe this change in the law could cut the divorce rate in half," said Rev. Richard Cizik, V.P. of the National Association of Evangelicals, in a book endorsement.

"That would spare 500,000 children from seeing their parents divorce each year, and save $50 to $100 billion in taxpayer funds. This is an issue which should be taken to those running for state or federal offices in this election year."

What would Mutual Consent mean in practical terms? A process of negotiation would commence. A husband tells his wife that he wants a divorce.  She might reply "No, I won't agree to it. We have two kids. You made a marriage vow `for better for worse.' Let's go to a Marriage Encounter to improve our marriage." 

He might then say, "I am in love with my secretary, but I want to be fair with you, so I will give you my equity in the house." She could respond, "But I don't earn enough money to pay the mortgage.  I could sue you for divorce on grounds of adultery, but I'll forgive you. Give up this woman, and let's heal our marriage."  He'd then have to decide whether to offer alimony as well as the house, or to give up the other woman. 

"By giving a spouse who wants to save the marriage an equal voice with an unhappy mate, many marriages could be restored, perhaps saving most of them," asserts Evansville IN Catholic Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger.

Divorce Attorney John Crouch, President of Americans For Divorce Reform, explains "The law would guide people to postpone the divorce decision until they had worked out the details of how the divorce would actually work. A large proportion of divorces would be avoided altogether. Divorces would be fairer to both parties with less legal fees. I believe it could reduce divorce rates as much as 50 percent.

"Changing the rules about ending a marriage would prevent a lot of marriages from breaking down in the first place. They would not only influence the decision to divorce, but the behavior and choices that lead to divorce."
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