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Resources from Marriage Savers: Articles

How to Reform No-Fault Divorce Laws

America’s divorce rate is the world’s highest because the law permits one partner to unilaterally end a marriage even with no allegation of adultery or abuse. What was begun by two people willingly is terminated by one person against the will of the spouse in 80% of cases. This is called “No Fault Divorce,” because no fault need be alleged to get the divorce.

Result: innocent children are scarred for life; they are three times as likely as those from intact marriages to be expelled from school or to have a baby out-of-wedlock, five times as apt to live in poverty or to commit suicide, and 12 times as likely to be jailed. Also, the divorced live 4-10 years less.

Mutual Consent: In my newspaper column I called for a change in the law in cases involving children to “Replace No Fault Divorce with Mutual Consent Divorce.” Either spouse could file for divorce on grounds of adultery, abuse, etc. But if no such fault is alleged, both parties would have to agree. “Government has an interest in the future of children, and they’d be best served if parents worked out their differences,” I asserted. Attorney John Crouch, President of Americans for Divorce Reform, estimates that change would cut divorce rates by 30%.

Shared Parenting: “If parents agree to a divorce, they should have equal access to children – Joint Custody or Shared Parenting. Today’s norm of Sole Custody removes one parent from the lives of their children, I argued. However, of the six states that passed the strongest Joint Custody laws, five experienced 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.” Both he and Crouch estimate that if each parent had custody at least one-third time weekly -- divorce rates would fall an additional 20%. If enacted with Mutual Consent, both said divorce would plunge in half saving 500,000 marriages a year.

First Result: I was asked to serve on a Virginia Marriage Commission which proposed to replace No Fault Divorce with Mutual Consent if “there are minor children.” Either party could file “a written objection to the granting of a divorce.”  Shared parenting was not endorsed. A Mutual Consent bill was introduced, to be debated in 2008. While the Commission vote was unanimous, 100% of key Virginia Legislative members are attorneys. Passage will be difficult.

Second Result: The National Association of Evangelicals asked for an NAE resolution draft. An earlier NAE resolution identified “easy divorce” as a social evil to be challenged, and committed NAE to improve “marriage and divorce law.” Given the failure of all legislatures to reform No Fault over 35 years, NAE is considering a Federal Law of Mutual Consent and Shared Parenting be passed by Congress. “The need for reform at the national level is similar to the need for federal Civil Rights Laws in the 1960s when no southern state would pass laws guaranteeing black civil rights,” the resolution states. “Husbands and wives who vowed to stick together `for better, for worse, till death do us part’ should live their vows pledged on the altar of God,” it states. “Why? Children need both a married mother and father.”  The resolution will be voted upon by NAE’s Board in March, 2008. If passed by an association of 45,000 churches with 30 million members, it could become an issue in Presidential and Congressional races.

(c)2007 Michael McManus/Marriage Savers