Marriage reform proposed to lower divorce rate by half
Catholic News Agency
Nov 23, 2007
A reform of marriage laws and better marital counseling
programs have been proposed as ways to lower the divorce rate
and improve the quality of marriages.
Michael McManus, president of Marriage Savers, has been
advocating a "Community Marriage Policy"(CMP) to help create
lasting marriages. The policy, which helps churches prepare,
enrich, or restore marriage has been implemented in 220 cities.
The Catholic Bishop of Evansville Gerald Gettelfinger has
thanked Marriage Savers in a letter for helping his area cut
divorce rates by twenty percent while raising marriage rates
A study comparing cities and counties that had instituted a
Community Marriage Policy with cities and counties that had not
instituted the policy indicated CMP localities had a larger drop
in their divorce rate.
Paul Birch and Stan Weed of the Institute for Research and
Evaluation compared the divorce rate of the first 114 CMP
counties to the rate in similar counties without the policy.
While the divorce rate fell by 9.4 percent in the non-policy
counties, counties that had enacted the Community Marriage
Policy fell 17.5 percent over the same seven-year period. Birch
and Weed estimated that between 31,000 and 50,000 marriages were
preserved in the CMP counties.
Between 1990 and 2000, cohabitation rates also fell 13.4 percent
in CMP localities, while they rose by 19.2 percent in counties
without the policy.
In a proposal to the National Association of Evangelicals,
Michael McManus has suggested three policy changes that could
supplement and spread the beneficial effects of the Community
One proposal is to mandate that states spend between two and
five percent of their welfare reform surplus on so-called
"Health Marriage Initiatives," which could include instituting
CMPs in a state.
McManus also proposes replacing no-fault divorce laws with
mutual consent laws. "What was entered into by two people
willingly should not be terminated by one person who alleges the
couple is incompatible," he wrote in a letter to Catholic News
Agency. He suggested there are constitutional problems with
no-fault divorce, since the proceedings always result in a
judgment favorable to the spouse who started the divorce
proceedings. This could violate the guarantee of due process in
the Fifth Amendment.
A change of child custody laws could also help children after a
divorce or strengthen spouses' desire to preserve their
marriage. Sole custody, the legal arrangement in which
guardianship of children is awarded only to one parent after a
divorce, could be changed to favor joint custody or shared
McManus' proposal, he claims, could slash divorce rates by fifty
percent. "That would be enough to save 500,000 marriages a year
from divorce, and enable 500,000 kids a year to avoid the
turmoil of a parental divorce, or 5 million in a decade,"
Marriage reform could be implemented through state legislatures,
but McManus was not optimistic about that route. Legislatures
have an overrepresentation of lawyers, some of whom are divorce
attorneys. This provides a strong disincentive for them to block
the reform of divorce laws.
Change on the federal level could better implement marriage
reform. Congress could require states to spend some welfare
dollars on marriage initiatives. The constitutional question of
possible due process violations could also provide congress
authority to intervene.
But McManus sees marriage reform as potentially a strong issue
for a Republican presidential candidate. "It would give him a
fresh issue to champion to awaken his base," he said.
The National Association of Evangelicals will revisit the
Marriage Savers' proposal at its meeting in March.