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Ethics & Religion
Column #2,049
Nov. 16, 2020
How to Cut the Divorce Rate in Half
By Mike McManus

In 2008 I wrote a book, How to Cut the Divorce Rate in Half - a Strategy Every State Should Adopt. It offered three suggestions on how to reduce the divorce rate.

First, a decade ago, Maryland required couples to live apart for a year if one spouse filed for divorce, and two years if it were contested. Pennsylvania and Illinois also required up to two years, if contested.

These states had a divorce rate that was about half that of the nine worst states: New Hampshire, Tennessee, Idaho, Florida, Oregon. New Mexico, Wyoming, New Mexico and Kentucky.

As a result of these differences, the Institute for American Values proposed legislation called the Parental Divorce Reduction Act. It would require a One Year Period of Reconciliation and Reflection.

During that year, couples would have to take classes with two kinds of marital education:

  1. Education on the impact of divorce on children & adults
  2. Training in the skills of communication and conflict resolution

Those proposals still make sense. Few couples with children realize how devastating divorce is to kids. They perform poorly academically compared to children of marriage. Few ever marry, and those who do are much more likely to get divorced.

Every couple also needs to improve their skills of communication and of resolving conflict. Those skills can be taught in 3-4 hours of classes.

These are wise suggestions, and my first two proposals.

My third suggestion is that state laws be changed to identify the spouse committed to saving the marriage, as The Responsible Spouse. I propose that spouse be given 50% to 67% of child custody time, and 60% - 70% of family assets. A judge would decide the exact split.

Women file for divorce in two-thirds of all marriages, on the assumption they will get custody, even if they are guilty of infidelity. What if she knew that her husband, who did not want a divorce - would get 50% of custody time and the majority of family assets?

Wouldn't the divorce rate plunge?

Furthermore, this proposal is based on the assumption that most parents are fit. All Fit Parents would get at least one-third time with children, five overnights out of 14. That would double the present access of non-custodial parents.

This change in law would restore justice and put the state on the side of marriage preservation rather than marriage destruction.

What's the evidence this would work?

New Jersey and Connecticut - located on either side of New York State - had a Mutual Consent law which required the consent of both husband and wife to the divorce. In a June, 2008 column that was published by the New York Daily News, I noted the result was that New York had one of America's lowest divorce rates. It had only 52,300 divorces compared to its 135,000 marriages.

I asked, "Would New Yorkers like to swap their divorce rate for the 56% divorce rate of its neighbor, New Jersey, and have 76,900 divorces per year? Or would they choose Connecticut's 60% divorce rate yielding 81,000 divorces? Horrors!

Sadly, the New York Legislature did vote YES! It replaced its Mutual Consent requirement with a No Fault law like that of New Jersey and Connecticut. The result? Its divorce rate rose 50% to their level.

As New York demonstrates, its divorce rate was lower because if couples have to agree on a divorce, tens of thousands of couples will work out their differences, saving their marriages.

In 2008, 13 states were considering passing the Parental Divorce Reduction Act. It would have required couples to wait a year before a divorce could take place. Three states at that time - Maryland, Illinois and Pennsylvania, which required two years of separation - had divorce rates that were half that of nine states with no waiting period.

Thus, states should be encouraged to take three steps that could cut their state's divorce rate in half:

  1. Require couples to take classes on the impact of divorce on children.
  2. Require couples to take classes to improve their skills of communication and conflict resolution.
  3. Require couples to wait a year before a divorce becomes effective.

Sadly, no state has taken any of these steps in the past decade. They should do so to reduce their divorce rates and give both couples and their children a happier life.


Copyright (c) 2020 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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