Reform of No Fault Divorce
– Family Research Council Panel Tomorrow
I will be participating tomorrow in a
panel discussion at the Family Research Council on “Why Divorce
Must Decline for America to Prosper.” It will begin at noon, and
can b e seen on line. Here is a link to the FRC announcement about it:
In my remarks, I will provide evidence that America’s divorce rate could
be cut in half. In fact, I wrote a short book with the title, How
To Cut America’s Divorce Rate in Half: A Strategy Every State Should
Last year there were 1.2 million
divorces in America compared to 2.2 million marriages, according to Census. In
fact, there has been one divorce for every two marriages every year since
1975. We have become so inured to this 50% divorce rate, that few realize
the U.S. divorce rate is triple that of Britain or France. After 5
years of marriage 23% of Americans have divorced, but only 8% of the British or
French. Why? If a British wife wants a divorce, but her husband is
opposed, they have to wait 5 years to get divorced. In France, the
delay is 6 years. Five or six years allows a lot of time for
By contrast, 25 states have a zero waiting period or only 20-60 days. No
wonder the U.S. divorce rate is off the charts. These states have laws
that actually encourage divorce.
Only two states – Illinois and Pennsylvania – allow a two-year
waiting period if a divorce is contested. Result: Their divorce rates are
about half that of 10 “Hot Head” states with a zero wailing period:
Wyoming, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, Florida, Tennessee, New Mexico, New
Hampshire, Nevada and Oregon.
Therefore, one obvious reform of No Fault Divorce is to require at least a year
before a divorce is granted – and two years, if the divorce is contested.
That step alone could cut the divorce rate in half of Hot Head States with zero
waiting. Another step that could help enormously is to require couples
with children to take classes on the impact of divorce on children. An
unhappy spouse with children tends to rationalize: “Kids are resilient.
They will bounce back.”
No, they won’t. I will quote Michael Reagan, the adopted son
of Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman, who wrote of his parents’ divorce:
“Divorce is where two adults take everything that matters to a
child – the child’s home, family, security, and sense of
and protected – and they smash it all up, leave it in ruins on the
floor, then walk out and leave the child to clean up the mess.”
answer is to require divorcing couples to take classes during the year’s
delay to improve their skills of communication and conflict resolution. One
reason many divorce is that they do not know how to argue respectfully.
Fortunately, that can be taught.
The Parental Divorce
Beverly Willett, the co-founder of the Coalition Divorce Reform, will outline a
bill, the Parental Divorce Reduction Act, which could be adopted by any
state. It contains three important elements:
that couples with children take a four-hour course on the impact of divorce on
children before a divorce is filed. Hopefully, many couples would decide
to improve their marriage rather than walk away from each other and their kids.
This proposal was first proposed by Dr. Bill Doherty of the Un. of Minnesota
and former Georgia Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears, in a report, Second
Chances, published by the Institute for Amerian Values.
A minimum waiting
“Period of Reflection and Reconciliation,” of 8 months during
which couples could continue living under the same roof, if desired. All
states with waiting periods force the couple to separate - which only
encourages dating and divorce.
The taking of a
course to improve couple communication and skills to resolve conflict during
the Period of Reflection and Reconciliation.
Three states have been giving these proposals serious
consideration, as I reported in the attached column published by the AFA
Journal in September:
1. Georgia, a state with only a 30-day waiting period,
which would be stretched to a year, if the state passed a brilliantly named
bill, the “Hope for Family Life Act,” that has been advanced by a
divorced dad, Greg Griffin (770 310-7190). He has personally met with
Gov. Nathan Deal and with 21 of the state’s 56 senators.
2. Texas held two hearings this year, prodded by Jonathan
Saenz, Director of Texas Values, the Family Policy Council for Texas (JSaenz@TXValues.org). That bill
would increase the waiting period from 60 days to 6 months.
3. North Carolina now requires one-year delay. A proposed
Healthy Marriage Act would double that to two years.
One criticism I will
make is that America’s religious leaders seem utterly disinterested in
the nation’s divorce rate. I do not know of a single leader who has
advocated any reform of No Fault Divorce – Catholic or Protestant.
Please call me with any questions you may have, or
tune in tomorrow, which can be watched on line at FRC.org.
Mike McManus is President of Marriage Savers.
He also writes a nationally syndicated newspaper column,
Ethics & Religion.
Potomac, MD 20854