Testimony of Mike McManus, President,
To the Missouri House Committee on
Children and Families
April 21, 2010
I want to
thank Rep. Cynthia Davis for this opportunity to testify. It is an
honor. I am Mike McManus, President of Marriage Savers, a national
non-profit organization which has helped more than 10,000 clergy create
228 Community Marriage Policies that have reduced divorce and
cohabitation rates, and raised marriage rates.
(The clergy of Kansas City, Springfield and Cape Giradeau signed these
covenants to do a better job preparing couples for a lifelong marriage,
enriching existing ones and saving troubled marriages.)
suggest three ways that Missouri might reduce its governmental costs by
reforming its No Fault Divorce Law. According to the Heritage
Foundation, divorce accounts for half of America’s 13 million single
parents, who cost taxpayers an average of $20,000 each in FY 2004 for
welfare, Medicaid, food stamps, subsidies for housing, day care, etc.
Missouri had 22,400 divorces in 2007, costing taxpayers $448 million,
much of which comes from state government. If you could cut your
divorce rate in half, the savings would be $224 million in the first
year, and $448 million in the second year, because another 11,200
divorces were avoided, reducing your welfare and Medicaid rolls.
Missouri’s divorce rate is above the national average, and it is rapidly
getting worse. In 2005 there were 21,000 divorces. That grew to
22,400 in 2007. Meanwhile the number of marriages shrunk from 40,700 in
2005 to only 39,400 two years later. So your divorce rate grew from 51%
in 2005 to 56% in 2007.
Missouri cut its divorce rate? Here are my three suggestions:
Lengthen the time a couple must live apart to get a divorce. At
present, a couple must live apart only 30 days in Missouri. That is
not enough time for hot heads to cool down. It is one reason your
56% divorce rate is above the U.S. rate of 50%. By contrast, my
home state of Maryland requires couples to live apart one year
before a divorce is granted, and two years if it is contested. IL
and PA have similar laws. The divorce rate of these three states
are among the lowest, averaging 47.6 %. Measured another way, in
divorces per 1,000 people, states with longer waiting periods have a
divorce rate 26% lower than Missouri. Why? If a couple has to wait
a year or two before getting a divorce, a lot of reconciliation
Replace No Fault Divorce in cases with children with Mutual Consent.
I suggest requiring that couples with minor children obtain the
consent of their spouse, unless major fault can be proven such as
adultery, abuse, etc. No Fault Divorce really is Unilateral
Divorce. It is forced by one spouse on a partner. In four out of
five divorces one spouse wants to preserve the marriage.
I wrote a short book, How To Cut the Divorce Rate in Half: A
Strategy Every State Should Adopt,"
copies of which I sent to you. See p. iii to see what Catholic
Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger of Evansville, IN wrote, “By giving the
spouse who wants to save the marriage an equal voice with an unhappy
mate, many marriages could be restored, perhaps saving most of
them. “ See p. 5 where I quote Divorce Attorney John Crouch,
President of Americans for Divorce Reform, “It is important to
change state laws to reduce divorce. The best way is to replace No
Fault Divorce with Mutual Consent in cases involving children…The
law would guide people to postpone the divorce decision until they
had worked out the details of how the divorce would actually work. A
large proportion of divorces would be avoided altogether, and most
of the rest would be settled out of court. Divorces would be fairer
to both parties with less legal fees. I believe it could reduce
divorce rates as much as 50 percent. Changing the rules about
ending a marriage would prevent a lot of marriages from breaking
down in the first place. They would not only influence the decision
to divorce, but the behavior and choices that lead to divorce."
Add fault grounds back to the law. At present, it is
impossible for a Missouri woman who has been physically abused to
sue for divorce on those grounds. Or if a wife runs off with
another man, the husband cannot sue on grounds of adultery. In such
cases, a larger share of the property should go to go to “the
responsible spouse,” according to David Usher, who is creating the
Center for Marriage Policy in St. Louis.
Furthermore, irresponsible spouses who make false allegations of
abuse, should be penalized.
& Divorce Law Should Promote Marriage Preservation Not Marriage
Missouri’s law fosters Marriage Destruction. Your state allows a
divorce to be granted in only 30 days. You do not allow residents to
sue on grounds of fault. And your No Fault Divorce Law allows one
person to unilaterally destroy a marriage that was entered into by two
willing people, and pay no price for it. I believe your law is
unconstitutional. See page 18 of my book, where I write, “Both the 5th
Amendment and the 14th Amendment guarantee that `no person be
deprived of life, liberty or property without the due process of law.’
Yet how can there be `due process’ if every divorce is granted?”
"Marriage absence is the greatest problem we face," says David
Usher. “The great budgetary, social and ethical crises of our era will
naturally abate to manageable levels when marriage is restored as the
social norm and afforded the protections it so desperately deserves.”
Your No Fault Law is immensely destructive to the lives of your
children. Children of divorce are three times as likely as those from
intact homes to be expelled from school or to give birth as a teenager,
are five times more likely to live in poverty, six times as apt to
commit suicide and up to 12 times as likely to be incarcerated.
you took the three steps suggested here, Missouri would be a national
leader in sparking Marriage Preservation. If Mutual Consent were
required of couples with children, most would work out their differences
– which would benefit themselves, their children and Missouri. It would
also reduce the demand for government welfare, Medicaid and various
subsidies. As indicated earlier, it could save $224 million in Year
One, $448 million in Year Two, and $672 million in Year Three. There
are real economic, political as well as social and family benefits to
making your law biased toward Marriage Preservation rather than favoring
that if Missouri is the first state to reform No Fault Divorce, it would
be a model for every other state, and would sweep the nation, just as No
Fault did so 40 years ago. Missouri could spark a reversal of that
trend, preserving the marriages of 500,000 couples a year, and reducing
the number of children who experience a parental divorce by a half
million a year, 5 million in a decade.
again for the opportunity to testify.
independent study of the first 114 Community Marriage Policies
estimated that divorce rates fell an average of 17.5%,
cohabitation dropped by one-third compared to carefully matched
counties in the same state, and marriage rates are now rising,
such as a 16% jump in Evansville, IN, and a doubling of
marriages in Modesto, CA. The study by the Institute for
Research and Evaluation, was written by Paul James Birch, Stan
E. Weed, and Joseph Olsen, and called “Assessing the Impact of
Community Marriage Policies on County Divorce Rates,” was
published in Family Relations, 2004, Vol. 53, No.
Robert Rector and Christine Kim, “Fiscal Distribution of
Single-Parent Families in the United States, FY 2004, November
10, 2007, The Heritage Foundation, Washington DC
page 95 of How To Cut America’s Divorce Rate in Half
for a state-by-state comparison of marriage and divorce data for
estimate is by Frank Furstenberg and Andrew Cherlin, who write,
“four out of vie marriages ended unilaterally,” in their book,
Divided Families, (Cambridge, MA): Harvard
University Press, 1991, p. 22.
McManus, How To Cut America’s Divorce Rate in Half: A
Strategy Every State Should Adopt, with a Foreword by
Gov. Mike Huckabee, 2008, Marriage Savers Inc. Potomac, MD.
contact David R. Usher, write firstname.lastname@example.org.