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October 5, 2010

Column #1,519

Divorce Reform: The Responsible Spouse/Fit Parent

By Mike McManus

                George Gallup Jr. personally told me recently, “Since the 1940’s, by a 2-1 margin, Americans say it is too easy to get divorced.  It is one of the most stable numbers in polling history.” 

                Therefore, those running for Governor or State Legislatures need to consider how to reduce divorce and rebuild marriage, God’s first institution.

                Present law rewards the irresponsible spouse who had an affair and wants a divorce. He/she gets 50% of family assets, the same amount as the faithful spouse.  Research indicates that two-thirds of divorces are filed by women because they can count on getting child custody.  What if a husband wants to preserve the marriage, which is in the best interest of children?

The most interesting new idea is that he be considered the Responsible Spouse, who would get at least 50% of custody and 60% of family assets.  A Responsible Spouse must not have committed a major fault such as adultery or physical abuse, and want to preserve the marriage.

This change would turn the divorce culture upside down.    

How many women would file for divorce if their husband got at least half of parental time with children, and 60% to 100% of marital property (with a judge deciding the percent)?  Not many.

To put it differently, by designating the Responsible Spouse in the law and awarding such spouses advantages in custody and property settlement in cases of divorce – both husbands and wives would be prompted to be more responsible, because irresponsibility would incur economic and personal consequences.

If adopted by all states, America could save 500,000 marriages. Per year!

A second, related idea is the Fit Parent, who would get at least one-third of custody time with their children, which more than doubles the time non-custodial parents now get with their kids. Less than 5% of parents are proven to be abusive to their children, yet can see their kids only every other weekend.  That is unfair to the kids and that parent. 

A Fit Parent would be able to see his/her children five out of 14 overnights.

The Responsible Spouse/Fit Parent strategy will actually promote reconciliation and family preservation. Many more couples would work out their differences. 

There is a 40-year case study which proves the value of slowing down the divorce process and prompting couples to improve their marriage, rather than divorcing.

While 49 states passed No Fault Divorce Laws which allow one spouse to unilaterally divorce a mate, one refused to do so – New York.  If one spouse could not prove the other guilty of a major fault, such as adultery or physical abuse, a divorcing couple had to agree on the divorce.  Secondly, they had to live apart one full year before the divorce became final.  (Some 32 states in America do not require couples to live apart at all.)

The result was that liberal New York actually has a divorce rate that is one of the lowest in the United States: 38.7% in 2008, with 52,300 divorces and 135,000 marriages.  However, this summer the New York Legislature voted to adopt No Fault Divorce – which allows either partner to file for divorce without the consent of a spouse. 

I wrote columns that were published by the New York Daily News and nine other New York newspapers urging Gov. Paterson veto the bill.

“Would New Yorkers like to swap their divorce rate for the 56% rate of its neighbor, New Jersey, and have 75,900 divorces per year?” I asked.  “Or Connecticut’s rate of 60%, yielding 81,000 divorces in New York?  Horrors!”

After hesitating for a month, giving hope to such opponents as the New York Catholic Archdiocese, the governor signed the bill, making it law.  The result is predictable.  Divorces will rise in New York, probably by 50% to the level of its neighbors.

There is an alternative.  If states adopt a Responsible Spouse/Fit Parent revision of the law, No Fault Divorce would not be repealed. Either spouse could file for divorce unilaterally. But he/she would pay a price.  Studies show that in four out of five divorces, one spouse opposes the divorce. That person would be considered the Responsible Spouse in the law, and would be granted primary custody of children, and from 60% to 100% of the property value.

On the other hand, the other parent would be considered a Fit Parent and have at least one-third time with children.

Overall, however, that state would see a sharp drop in the divorce rate, as more couples would work to improve the marriage rather than abandon it.

It is time for the law to promote marriage preservation rather than marriage destruction.


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