Create More Intact Families
ST. LOUIS - “Taxpayers
are spending a trillion dollars a year to subsidize non-marriage
– 75% federal and 25% by states – which goes to the single
mom,” Phyllis Schlafly asserted at
the launching of a new
Center for Marriage Policy. She noted Ronald Reagan once said,
`If you subsidize something, you will get more of it.’”
America has subsidized
cohabitation. Result: it soared 17-fold from 430,000 in 1960 to
7.5 million last year. Subsequently marriage rates have plunged
in half. Further, 41% of U.S. births are out of wedlock (mostly
to cohabiting couples) vs. only 2% unwed births in Japan.
How can America create
more intact families?
There are two major
answers, and the Center for Marriage Policy is unique in America
in pursuing both options.
churches can be helped to do a better job. They marry 86% of
Americans, but not well. Protestant divorce rates are actually
higher than the unchurched.
However, my wife and I
have created Marriage Savers which has helped 10,000+ clergy in
229 cities adopt a “Community Marriage Policy” that has reduced
divorce and cohabitation rates across entire metro areas. I was
invited by David Usher, the Center’s founder, to speak to St.
Louis area pastors about creating this intervention.
The second major
strategy to build more intact families is political.
Usher invited state
legislators to attend a luncheon at which he said, “America is
drowning in deficit spending. Marriage absence is the greatest
economic problem we face and the greatest social problem.
Nothing creates more human misery.
“Over 45 years, poverty
levels for married families have been only 5% to 7%, while that
of unmarried individuals is 5-6 times higher. The government
cost was $960 billion last year alone, for Medicaid, food
stamps, day care, foster homes, etc. America is going broke.”
Therefore he called for
a “marriage revolution,” and asked me to outline possible
changes in state law.
First, State laws could
be changed to reduce divorce rates.
Last week a proposal was
made for a “Second Chances Act,” based on research which reports
that about 60% of divorces are by couples who are no more
unhappy than those who remain married and have “low levels of
Further, new research by
University of Minnesota Prof. William Doherty surveyed 2,500
couples and found that 40% of those well into the divorce
process, say that “one or both of them are interested in the
possibility of reconciliation.” That offers hope.
Therefore, Doherty and
Leah Ward Sears, former Chief Justice of Georgia’s Supreme
Court, proposed a “Second Chances Act” would set a one year
“cooling off” period before a divorce can become final. It also
encourages spouses to send their mates an “early notification
and divorce prevention letter,” warning that a divorce was
likely if problems were not resolved.
A year’s delay would be
a big change for 25 states with no waiting period, or only 20-60
days. Of 10 states with the highest divorce rates, 9 had no
waiting period. A year would allow time for much reconciliation.
Second Chances would
require parents of minor children to attend divorce education
classes, in person or on line, before they file
for divorce. The course would offer information on the impact of
divorce on children, and on the option of reconciliation, and
its benefits to adults.
Divorce rates would
drop, but the injustice of No Fault Divorce would remain. A man
who left his family and ran off with a younger woman would still
get half of family assets.
Responsible Spouse Guidelines, would give 50%-67% of child
custody time and 60%-100% of family assets to the “Responsible
Spouse” trying to preserve a marriage, with a judge deciding the
exact split. Neither a person who files for divorce nor an
adulterous partner could be designated the Responsible Spouse.
However, the Guidelines
would give the other parent, at least one-third of child custody
time, five overnights out of 14. That would double the access
of non-custodial parents to their children. This proposal by
Ronald Grignol and Dr. Michael Ross, was published this summer
by FCS Quarterly.
How can cohabitation be
reduced? Ideally, a new President might ask Congress to pass a
law encouraging couples living together to marry. He might say,
“If cohabiting parents marry, the government will not cut your
Medicaid, food stamps, housing subsidies, etc for two years,
with benefits being tapered off over three more years.”
If these reforms were enacted,
divorce rates would fall and more children would grow up with
married parents giving them a better future. Taxpayers would
also save billions in time.