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Testimony of Mike McManus, President, Marriage Savers

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.[1] (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.)

 

I will 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.[2]  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.[3]

 

How can Missouri cut its divorce rate?  Here are my three suggestions:

  1. 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 takes place.

  2. 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.[4]  I wrote a short book, How To Cut the Divorce Rate in Half: A Strategy Every State Should Adopt,"[5] 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." 

  3. 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.[6]  Furthermore, irresponsible spouses who make false allegations of abuse, should be penalized.

Marriage & Divorce Law Should Promote Marriage Preservation Not Marriage Destruction

At present 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.

 

However, if 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 Marriage Destruction.

 

I predict 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.

 

Thank you again for the opportunity to testify. 

______________________________________________________


[1] An 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. 5.

[2] 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

[3] See page 95 of How To Cut America’s Divorce Rate in Half for a state-by-state comparison of marriage and divorce data for 2005-2007.

[4] This 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.

[5] Mike 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.

[6] To contact David R. Usher, write drusher@swbell.com.