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Ethics & Religion
Column #1,979
July 24, 2019
Let's Reform No Fault Divorce!
By Mike McManus

Fifty years ago this week California Governor Ronald Reagan signed America's first No Fault Divorce Law. It gave either the husband or wife the right to file for divorce, without any allegation of fault by their partner - and always get the divorce.

In the old days, if a spouse wanted a divorce, there had to be proof that their partner was guilty of a major fault such as adultery, abandonment or physical abuse. Marriage was considered a sacred contract in which both man and woman agreed to remain together "until death do us part" - a commitment made before friends, family and God.

However, in No Fault Divorce, one partner simply alleges that there are "irreconcilable differences" - and the divorce is always granted. No fault has to be proven. Almost all states passed similar No Fault laws by 1975.

The result? America's divorces almost doubled from 636,000 in 1969 to 1,169,000 by 1979. In fact, Reagan wife, Jane Wyman, divorced him.

His son, Michael, wrote a book in which he charged, "Divorce is where two adults take everything that matters to a child - the child's home, family, security and sense of being loved and protected - and they smash it all up, leave it in ruins on the floor, then they walk out and leave the child to clean up the mess."

Ron Reagan later acknowledged to his son that passing No Fault Divorce was his
"greatest regret" in public life.

In my book, How To Cut America's Divorce Rate in Half - A Strategy Every State Should Adopt - I argue that No Fault is unconstitutional. Both the 5th and the 14th Amendments to the Constitution guarantee that "no person be deprived of life, liberty or property" without "due process of law."

But when every divorce is granted, how is there "due process of law" to the four of five spouse defendants who do not want a divorce?

And divorced people ARE deprived of life, liberty and property. A divorced woman lives 4 years less than a married woman; a divorced husband, 10 years less; and their children experience 5 years shorter lives.

Also, divorced husbands can visit their kids only two weekends a month - depriving him and his kids of liberty. And creating two households on the same income as one - deprives both of property.

I propose four reforms of No Fault Divorce:

  1. First, more time. America's divorce rate after five years of marriage is 23% - triple the 8% rate of Britain and France. Why? If a British man wants a divorce, but his wife does not, historically they have had to wait five years to be divorced - and six years in France. Five or six years is a lot of time for couples to reconcile. (Sadly, Britain adopted No Fault Divorce this year, and will soon see a soaring divorce rate.) By contrast, Michigan and 22 other states have a ZERO waiting period, or only 20-60 days. Therefore, I propose that states require a one-year waiting period, and two years, if it is contested, or if there are children. Neighboring Illinois has such a law, and a much lower divorce rate.
  2. Second, remain under same roof. Every state with a waiting period requires couples to move apart if a divorce has been filed. That only encourages either to begin dating - not reconciling. They should have the option to remain in the same home together to encourage reconciliation.
  3. Third, two educational suggestions: If the couple has children, before divorce papers can be filed, they should be required to take a 4-hour on-line course summarizing the impact of divorce on children. What they will learn is that a child of divorce is three times more likely to become pregnant as a teenager or to be expelled from school as a teen from an intact home, five times more apt to live in poverty, six times more likely to commit suicide, and 12 times more apt to be incarcerated. My second educational suggestion is that during the year or two of delay before the divorce takes effect, states should require the couple to take a course to improve their skills of communication and conflict resolution. Most couples divorce because they do not know how to resolve differences amicably, which can be taught.
  4. Fourth, the spouse trying to preserve the marriage should get 60% of family assets- instead of the usual 50-50 split.

State laws should encourage reconciliation - not divorce.

Copyright (c) 2018 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. To read past columns, go to Hit Search for any topic.


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