August 28, 2007
How To Slash Divorce Rates
by Mike McManus
Pollster George Barna released a new poll noting that during this presidential campaign that the biggest issue is being missed by every candidate. Some 82 percent responded that it is "absolutely necessary" to improve "the well-being of America’s children."
What single factor most undermines the lives of children? The choice by millions of their parents to not marry or to divorce. Since 1970, 35 million children have been born out-of-wedlock and 40 million more witnessed their parents’ divorce.
Many children are scarred for life. They are three times as likely as those from intact homes to be expelled from school or to have a baby out-of-wedlock as those from intact families, five times as apt to live in poverty or to commit suicide and 12 times as likely to be incarcerated.
I was asked to make a speech at "Family Preservation Day" at the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday as President of Marriage Savers. I charged, "All Presidential candidates say they are committed to "Family Values." What does that mean? For example, would they support steps that could slash the American divorce rate in half? If elected President, here are three reforms they might support to do so, giving our children a better future:"
1. Replace No Fault Divorce with Mutual Consent Divorce
All states actually encourage divorce because the law allows one person to file for divorce, when 80 percent of their spouses want to save the marriage. It is called "No Fault Divorce" because no major fault must be alleged, such as adultery or abuse. "What was entered into by two people are now being ended by one spouse unilaterally. No Fault should be called Unilateral Divorce. This is tragic if children are involved," I stated.
"This is a profound moral issue, Yet church leaders were either silent or ineffectual in fighting No Fault when it swept the nation in the 1970s. And they have made no effort in the 30 years since to change the law. The result is that there has been one divorce for every two marriages every year since 1970. Jesus said, `What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.’ Since 1970, America has put asunder 42 million marriages," I asserted.
"Presidential candidates ought to be asked if they support replacing state No Fault laws with a federal Mutual Consent law, if children are involved and no major faults are alleged. They could say, `Government has an interest in the future of children, and they would be best served if their mother and father worked out their differences.’"
2. Require Shared Parenting
If parents agree to a divorce they should have equal access to the children – Joint Custody or Shared Parenting. Sole custody virtually removes one parent from the lives of their children. However, of the six states which passed the strongest Joint Custody laws, five also enjoyed the largest drops in the divorce rate: Montana, Kansas, Connecticut, Idaho and Alaska. Why? "If a parent knows they will have to interact with the child’s other parent while the child is growing up, there is less incentive to divorce," says David Levy of the Children’s Rights Council.
Therefore, I asserted, "A federal law that required Mutual Consent and Shared Parenting could cut divorce rates in half. That could save $40 billion to $50 billion of the $150 billion cost of broken families. This is based on the fact 53% of all single parents with children had a divorce or separation – a failed marriage. That costs taxpayers $79.5 billion. If the divorce rate fell 50%, there would be a savings to taxpayers of $40 billion."
3. Set Aside 2% to 5% of State Welfare Surpluses To Strengthen Marriage.
When Welfare Reform was passed in 1996, the $16 billion federal payment was frozen even if welfare rolls fell. They did plunge 61%, giving states a annual welfare surplus of $9.8 billion. That law mandates states to reduce "out-of-wedlock births," and to "increase two-parent families." Both trends have gotten worse. However, Ohio set aside 1% of welfare, $12 million in 2006, to strengthen marriage.
Why not ask Presidential candidates, "Do you support a law requiring all states to set aside 2-5% to promote marriage?"
"We at Marriage Savers have worked with the clergy of 220 cities to launch a Community Marriage Policy to better prepare couples for marriage, enrich existing ones or save troubled marriages. An independent study by the Institute for Research and Evaluation of our first 114 cities reported a 17.5% drop in divorce in seven years. In fact divorce plunged 50% in Kansas City, Austin, Salem, OR, Modesto, CA, El Paso –quite different places. Cohabitation also fell by a third in CMP cities vs. similar cities over a decade."
However, only 40 of the 220 cities have full-time staff. If $200-$500 million were available to strengthen marriage, all 3,000 counties could get a $100,000 start up grant to create a Healthy Marriage Initiative that could include a Community Marriage Policy.
Why not ask Presidential candidates if they support slashing the divorce rate, reducing the federal deficit by $40 billion?
Mike J. McManus is a syndicated columnist and president and co-chairman of Ethics and Religion.