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Ethics & Religion
Column #2,008
Feb. 4, 2020
Reform No Fault Divorce
By Mike McManus

Next week is Marriage Week - a good time to ask why half of America's marriages have ended in divorce since 1975.

Fifty years ago California passed a law that became known as No Fault Divorce. Prior to 1969, if a person wanted a divorce he/she had to prove that their spouse was guilty of a major fault, such as adultery, abuse or abandonment.

In 1969 then Gov. Ronald Reagan of California signed No Fault Divorce which was designed to remove the acrimony of divorce proceedings by allowing a person to charge that the marriage had "irreconcilable differences" without the consent of their partner. In fact, four out of five of their spouses opposed No Fault Divorce.

However, by 1975 virtually all states passed unilateral divorce. The results have been catastrophic. The number of divorces nationally had already nearly doubled in the turbulent 1960s from 390,000 divorces in 1960 to 636,000 in 1969. They nearly redoubled to 1,189,000 by 1975, in only six years.

This was bad for couples, tragic for children and cost taxpayers billions. Michigan's 36,000 divorces in 2013 cost taxpayers an average of $25,000 per divorce or $900 million - for just one year of divorce.

Divorces have remained over a million ever since. They increased by 140,000 from 2005 to 1,189,000 in 2013 and have remained at about that level.

Two reasons to oppose No Fault Divorce is that it is unconstitutional and unjust to children. In my book, How To Cut the Divorce Rate in Half, I argue that No Fault Divorce is unconstitutional. Both the 5th and the 14th Amendment guarantee that "no person be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law."

In a divorce, both people lose property. Children lose the liberty of easy access to both parents, and one parent's access to children is typically limited to two weekends a month. That is a loss of liberty for the parent and children.

Both spouses lose years of life as do their children. A divorced man will live ten years less than a married man; women, four years less, and their children, five years less.

Thus, in a divorce, all are losing life, liberty and property.

And since four out of five divorces are opposed by one spouse, how can there be due process if every divorce is granted?

Current law is profoundly unjust to children. Michael Reagan wrote about the divorce of his father, Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman:

"Divorce is where two adults take everything that matters to 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, they walk out and leave the child to clean up the mess."

President Reagan later told his son, Michael, that his signing of the No Fault Divorce was his "greatest regret" in public life.

I'd like to propose four solutions that any state could pass to reform No Fault Divorce:

  1. More time before a divorce is granted - at least six months to two years if the divorce Is contested or there are children. If a French wife wants a divorce, but her husband is opposed, they must wait five years to get the divorce. By contrast 23 states have a ZERO WAITING PERIOD, or only 20-60 days. However, four states require a year before a divorce (Maryland, Arkansas, North and South Carolina). Illinois requires a 2-year delay if the divorce is contested - and has a divorce rate that is about half that of 11 "Hot Head States:" with no waiting period: OK. NV, WY, ID, TN, KY, AK, FL, AL, MS, and CO.
  2. Living under the same roof should be allowed to couples during the delay, but should be optional. All states now require couples in states with waiting periods to move apart. Why? Is that wise? If they move apart, Partner A or B will begin dating. If they remain under the same roof, they might reconcile.
  3. Education on the impact of divorce on children and to improve the couple's conflict resolution skills should be required. If they take a 4-hour course on the impact of divorce on children, many would reconsider.
  4. More favorable treatment of the spouse opposed to divorce would persuade many unhappy spouses to work on restoring the marriage rather than divorcing. David Usher of the Center for Marriage, proposes that the spouse trying to save the marriage would get 70% of marital assets and 50% of child custody time.

I suggest we use Marriage Week to propose these reforms of No Fault Divorce to our state legislators.

Visit National Marriage Week USA at:


Copyright (c) 2019 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. To read past columns, go to www.ethicsandreligion.comm. Hit Search for any topic.


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