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October 26, 2011

Column #1,574

How To Create More Intact Families

By Mike McManus

            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.

First, America’s 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 conflict.”

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.

Another proposal, 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.


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