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November 4, 2009
Column # 1,471
A New Agenda For Conservatives
By Mike McManus

        Conservatives are exultant by this week's victories for governors in Virginia and New Jersey. With good reason.  Their core supporters turned out, and they attracted a substantial majority of independents, most of whom had voted for Obama. 

        Maine voters also defeated a gay marriage law.  In all 31 states where same-sex marriage has been put to a public vote, people supported traditional marriage.

        However, in 2010 conservatives must be far more creative to win major victories in Congress and in state capitals.  If Obama's Health Plan passes Congress, as is likely, Democrats will claim a victory that will impress many independents.

     What's needed is a fresh political idea to galvanize conservatives. For example, states could take a step that could cut divorce rates in half, and reduce federal and state spending on broken families by $75 billion a year.

     There will be an acute need for such an initiative in 2010 when unemployment rates are expected to remain near 10 percent.  That will depress federal and state revenues. Federal Stimulus funds which helped this year - will evaporate next year.

        How can divorce rates be cut in half?

        First, answer this question.  Why are America's divorce rates two to seven times those of Canada and European countries?

       As Andrew Cherlin documents in his insightful book, "The Marriage-Go-Round," after five years 23 percent of American couples separate or divorce.  Compare that with the 10-12 percent of couples in Canada, Austria, Finland, West Germany and Sweden; 8 percent of the French or British; and only 3-5 percent of Italians, Belgians and Spanish.

      Cherlin writes, "In no other country is the waiting period for a No-Fault Divorce so short," as in America.  Germans have to live separately for three years if one spouse does not want the divorce, five years in Britain and six in France.

      Why?  Such laws give couples time to reconcile. Clearly, it works.

      By contrast, there is NO minimum time of separation in 33 states, such as Tennessee, Florida, Mississippi, Kentucky, Idaho and Wyoming, according to John Crouch of Americans for Divorce Reform. 

      These states have Hot Head Laws that favor the angry spouse, those who want a divorce IMMEDIATELY.  Why shouldn't state laws encourage reconciliation? Every study shows permanent marriages benefit men, women and especially children.

       For example, a married woman will live four years longer than the divorced, and a married man, ten years longer!  Children of divorce live four years less.

       Hot Head States have divorce rates that are double those of Maryland, Illinois and Pennsylvania where couples must live apart two years, if a No-Fault Divorce is contested.

      Few seem to realize that in four out of five divorces, one spouse opposes divorce, according to an earlier book by Cherlin, "Divided Families," co-authored with Frank Furstenberg

         Therefore, my first suggestion to cut divorce rates in half is for states to look at my home state of Maryland for a model law in which a spouse seeking a No-Fault Divorce must live separately for a year, and two years, if the divorce is contested.

        Alternatively, states could reform No-Fault Divorce in cases that involve minor children, to require both the mother and father to agree in writing to any divorce, unless one is proven guilty of a fault, such as adultery or physical abuse.  Why should a contract that was willingly entered into by two people, be terminated by one spouse acting unilaterally? 

        Unilateral Divorce should be prohibited when couples have young children who need both their mother and father.  I wrote a recent book proposing this reform, "How to Cut  America's Divorce Rate in Half: A Strategy Every State Should Adopt."

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

        Divorce Attorney John Crouch told me, "A large proportion of divorces would be avoided altogether, and most of the rest would be settled out of court. Divorces would be fairer to both parties with less legal fees.  I believe it could cut divorce rates by as much as 50 percent. Changing the rules about ending a divorce 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."

        Affiliates of Focus on the Family invited me to address state legislators in Florida Wisconsin, as did the Family Rights Coalition of Michigan.  This weekend I address state legislators from many states at a WallBuilders Conference.

         Let's cut America's divorce rate in half!

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