Marriage Defenders

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No-Fault Divorce: A Failed Policy We Should Abandon

August, 1997
By Scott D. Noble

Recently, a movement has emerged across the nation aimed at reforming the no-fault divorce laws. Many states are beginning to reexamine their particular no-fault divorce laws in the light of 25 years of no-strings-attached divorce. There can be no argument that since no-fault divorce laws were enacted by most states, many Americans have been eager to exercise their newfound freedom from commitment. But with this freedom has come a myriad of problems that now plague society. The traditional two-parent family has become endangered, and with this development has come immeasurable harm to the nation's children.

A little more than a century ago, the U.S. Supreme Court referred to the traditional two-parent family as "the sure foundation of all that is stable and noble in our civilization; the best guaranty of that reverent morality which is the source of all beneficent progress in social and political improvement" (Murphy v. Ramsey [1885]). Somehow in the past century, these words have been forgotten. Still, the surest path to providing children with success in life is to ensure that they have two committed parents who have not only pledged to be faithful to each other but also to provide their children with the same assurance.

In 1960, the divorce rate was 9.2 per 1,000 married women. By the early 1990s, the rate had more than doubled to 20.9. What a dramatic turn in just 30 years! In 1995, an estimated 2,336,000 marriages were performed in the United States. In the same year, 1,169,000 divorces were performed. It is estimated that half of all new marriages will end in a divorce--with many of those divorces involving people who have already been divorced at least once.

What detrimental consequences have emerged as a result of the culture of divorce? The Family Research Council has compiled some disturbing statistics: A divorced woman will typically experience a 30 percent drop in income the first year after a divorce. This is a significant decline in family income, which can easily cause harm to a family's continued ability to provide adequately for its members.

Three out of four teen suicides are committed by children who come from broken homes. Teenage suicides are such tragedies--life has barely been explored by the time these children decide they want no more of it.

Children of divorce are 70 percent more likely to have been expelled or suspended from school, and are twice as likely to drop out of school as those from intact families are. Without a high school diploma, individuals will suffer immensely in trying to provide a safe and successful life for themselves and a family.

Of juveniles and young adults serving time in correctional facilities, 70 percent come from broken homes. This is remarkable when we think of the dramatic increase in crime in the last thirty years and the parallel implementation of no-fault divorce laws. Broken homes can and do cause drastic harm to the children who are forced to grow up in them.

No-fault divorce laws have created a climate where a divorce can take place without much resistance. Consider this situation: A couple has been married for 10 years and has two small children. The husband decides that married life is too stifling or that he has found a new love interest. Well, he doesn't need a real reason for a divorce or even his wife's consent. The husband can just file for a divorce and soon be granted it. The wife has no real recourse in the matter, even if she adamantly opposes the intended divorce.

This situation is all too common today, and the effects of divorce on the children can be devastating. Putting the legal concept of "fault" back into divorce would require couples to consider seriously not only their original marriage commitment to each other, but also the consequences of the decision to seek a divorce.

Under a proposed "fault" law, a divorce would generally be denied if only one spouse wanted it unless that spouse could prove desertion, infidelity, physical or mental abuse, alcoholism, or other serious problems. This would require couples to consider seriously the implications of their marriage contract before getting married in the first place. Also, it would force couples to try and work through their differences instead of having one spouse sneak through the no-fault back door and disregard family commitments.

The time has come for states, including Minnesota, to reevaluate their no-fault divorce laws. A divorce observer once remarked: "Seldom in U.S. history have laws been enacted with higher hopes and poorer results than the no-fault divorce statutes." If America is serious about protecting our children and creating a better world for them, then we must earnestly consider putting fault back into divorce. A two-parent family is the best remedy to our society's woes.

Scott Noble is a field representative for the Minnesota Family Council.

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