May 18, 2011
Why Is America’s Divorce Rate Highest in the World?
By Mike McManus
America’s divorce rate is the highest in the civilized world. By
one measure our divorce rate is triple that of Great Britain and France.
After five years of marriage, 23% of Americans have divorced, but only 8% of
British or French.
Divorce imposes a huge human cost, especially on children.
Every divorce is the destruction of a small civilization. Children of
divorce are three times as likely as those from intact homes to be expelled
from school or to have a baby out of wedlock as a teenager, six times as apt
to live in poverty and are far more likely to be incarcerated.
However, statistics do not reveal the emotional pain of divorce, which is
always particularly devastating for children. Michael Reagan, the son of
Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman, wrote of his parents’ divorce:
“Divorce is where two adults take everything that matters to a
child – the child’s home, family, security, and sense of being
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, his father, as Governor of California, signed
America’s first No Fault Divorce Law four decades ago. It swept the country
in the early 1970's. Divorces had already doubled in the 1960s but soared
after No Fault from 639,000 in 1969 to 1,036,000 by 1975. Before Reagan
signed the law, to get a divorce one spouse had to prove the other was
guilty of a major “fault” such as adultery or physical abuse. If there was
no alleged fault and both wanted the divorce, one might accuse the other of
adultery while the spouse remained silent, This collusion was denounced by
feminists and attorneys. “No Fault” was considered a reform because no fault
had to be alleged to get a divorce. One person simply asserted the marriage
had “irreconcilable differences” and always got it.
However, divorce is opposed in four out of five cases by the other spouse.
What was entered into by two people voluntarily is being terminated by one
spouse acting unilaterally. No Fault Divorce actually violates the
Constitution. The 5th and 14th Amendments guarantee
that “no person be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process
of law.” How can there be “due process” if the spouse who wants to save the
marriage always loses? That’s unjust.
system is fairer in Britain and France. If one spouse wants a No Fault
Divorce, and it is opposed by a mate, the couple must live apart five years
in Britain or six years in France. That time allows for much
reconciliation. However, 32 states have no waiting period, offering
no time for reconsideration. No wonder our divorce rate is three times
There are economic consequences to these divorces. On average each
divorce involves one child, which makes that family eligible for welfare,
Medicaid, food stamps and a plethora of subsidies. The Heritage Foundation
estimates that each divorce costs taxpayers $20,000, or $20 billion a year
with a million divorces annually. Each of the 1.7 million unwed births cost
another $20,000 each or $34 billion.
states are facing yawning budget deficits for the fourth year in a row.
State budget gaps total $112 billion for fiscal year 2012. Why? The
recession is one reason. However, America’s
high divorce rate and the failure of millions to marry are the driving force
behind soaring state and federal deficits.
An anti-marriage bias lies behind these trends. State law – such as
No Fault Divorce - promotes divorce. A “Parental Divorce Reduction Act,”
being considered by 13 states, would require a year’s waiting period before
any divorce becomes final. Also, couples would be required to take
pre-filing classes to learn the impact of divorce on both children and
adults. And they must attend marriage education classes to learn how to
resolve conflict amicably. That’s a double strategy to reduce divorce.
Similarly, state laws discourage marriage. States assume that an
unmarried mother is a single parent needing big subsidies. However, in more
than half the cases, she is cohabiting with the father, and benefits from
his income as if she were married. In effect, the state is subsidizing
couples to cohabit, rather than encouraging them to marry. And if a
cohabiting couple marries, they lose most subsidies. No wonder the marriage
rate has plunged 31% in only 19 years.
It’s time for state government to promote and preserve marriage – not
divorce and cohabitation