Proposed Louisiana Divorce Reform and
President, Marriage Savers
Testimony to the Louisiana Marriage Commission
February 5, 2013
No Fault Divorce
I suggest that Louisiana consider two different
No Fault Divorce Reform
strategies. The first is based on the fact that lengthening the time
before a couple can get divorced will reduce the divorce rate. One
reason America’s divorce rate of 23% after five years is triple
the 8% divorce rate of Britain or France is that if a spouse
opposes a divorce in those countries, they have to wait 5-6 years to get
it. At present, 25 states have a ZERO waiting period or only 20-60 days.
Similarly, states that require up to 2 years if a divorce is contested
(PA, IL and until last year, MD) have divorce rates 45% lower than 10
Hot Head states with a zero requirement (NV,AR, WY, ID, OK, KY, MS, FL,
Al, ME). 5.67 divorces per 1,000 people vs. 3.1 divorces per 1,000.)
Parental Divorce Reform
Act (PDRA) or Second Chances.
PDRA was suggested by a Divorce Reform Coalition (www.divorcereform.us)
that I helped create. You can find the technical legal language for PDRA
on that website. A similar bill was introduced in Minnesota, sparked by
Prof. Bill Doherty (BDoherty@umn.edu)
called Second Chances. The Institute
for American Values published
a 60 page paper on this proposal by Doherty and Leah Sears, a remarkable
African-American woman who is the former Chief Justice of Georgia. The
bills are similar.
Both propose that if a couple has children, they would have to take a
4-6-hour course on the impact of divorce on children before the
divorce is filed. PDRA’s course must be taken in person, but Second
Chances allows it to be online. PDRA also covers the impact of divorce
on adults, the value of reconciliation, and actually teaches
communication and conflict resolution skills. The hope is that the
course would persuade many couples to work at their marriage rather than
PDRA proposed couples wait 8 months for the divorce to be
filed. The better bill here is Second Chances which would require
a year’s delay. It would also require the complaining spouse to
give a written notice in advance of an intent to file for
divorce. The couple would have to take the course on kids before filing
for divorce. These elements are superior to PDRA, with a year’s time,
the pre-filing notice.
PDRA requires the couple take classes to improve their skills
of communication and conflict resolution, which would save more
marriages. However, the classes need not be taken together. Most
marriages fail because couples do not know how to argue constructively.
Fortunately that can be taught.
Second Chances does not require the classes, but only
encourages them. PDRA’s requirement makes it is superior.
Couples would be able to live under the same roof during the 8-12 month
delay, which would encourage reconciliation. LA and all states with
waiting periods require couples to move apart. That only encourages one
or both to start dating. Second
Chances was introduced in Minnesota and won the backing
of the Bar Association, thanks to patient lobbying by U. MN
Professor Bill Doherty. It has also passed one committee in the
Legislature. PDRA has not passed any legislative committee.
Louisiana has an advantage: Louisiana already requires a
year’s delay if the couple has children. That is the most difficult
element of PDRA or Second Chances to sell to a
Legislature. Only 3 states now require a year’s delay. For example,
Minnesota has a ZERO waiting period at present, and is thus one of the
Hot Head States that I criticize. If Louisiana were to adopt PDRA,
for example, it would simply be adding the educational elements of a
six-hour course on the impact of divorce on children and adults, and
classes to improve their skills of communication and conflict
resolution. These educational elements are not controversial, and
would make sense to legislators.
A second reason the Louisiana Legislature would
find PDRA should be popular with legislators is that during the
minimum of an 8 month delay before any divorce papers are filed – the
couple could remain under the same roof. Current Louisiana law requires
the couple to move apart for the year’s delay. That only encourages one
party or the other to begin dating. Obviously, that would increase the
odds of divorce, with all the harms for both children and adults. PDRA
would allow the couple to remain under the same roof – which would
encourage reconciliation. This would not be a controversial reform with
the Legislature. It makes pragmatic sense. Indeed it would be a popular
option to the present requirement that they move apart.
The state should be on the side of marriage
preservation not divorce.
is a second reform that
would cure one of the worst
aspects of No Fault Divorce – the fact that in 4 of 5 cases, one
spouse opposes the divorce. This bill would designate the spouse
trying to save the marriage as the Responsible Spouse, who, in
the Missouri version of the bill, would get 70% of marital assets and
half of child custody time. This proposal would give the spouse trying
to save the marriage, important leverage to fight to restore it. An
unhappy mate could file for divorce, but he/she would pay a price of
less child custody and fewer assets.
one’s partner is guilty of physical abuse, adultery, abandonment, etc.,
and there is actual evidence, with high evidentiary standards – then the
person filing for divorce would be designated the Responsible
Spouse. So a battered wife, would be the Responsible Spouse
in filing for divorce, and would get 70% of assets, etc.
If children are involved, custody is divided 50-50,
based on the number of years till the child is 18. If he is aged 4, the
mother would get custody for 7 years till age 11, then the father would
have 7 years of custody till age 18. This makes practical sense. Young
children need the love of a mother most, and teenagers most need the
discipline a father can offer. This custody reversal would happen
automatically, unless a spouse is found unfit or waives it.
A bill is being
introduced in Missouri by the Speaker of the House, Rep. Lindell Shumake,
and other legislators as co-sponsors which combines the two
strategies outlined above. It includes a version of the
Parental Divorce Reduction Act or Second Chances, which would
require couples to take a course on the impact of divorce on children
before a divorce is filed. Then they must wait 9 months, for
it to take effect.
Another provision is the state would designate one
spouse as the Responsible Spouse, the person trying to preserve
the marriage who would get at least 70% of marital assets. In a No
Fault Divorce, that would give the person who doesn’t want it, leverage
to try to persuade the spouse to improve the marriage rather than give
up. However, if the spouse filing for divorce is the victim of physical
abuse, adultery by the partner, abandonment, etc, he/she would be
designated the Responsible Spouse, and would get the benefits
In a divorce the court would be required to divide
both assets and debts. Currently, they do not have to dispose of
debts, which the husband usually ends up with, an unfair pattern that
often leaves him broke.
Finally, the bill would create a Missouri
Marriage Commission which would recommend policies to improve
marriage rates, reduce illegitimacy and domestic violence. In fact, it
would have the authority to establish and manage marriage, divorce and
conflict resolution courses and support groups, and recommend changes in
the law or court practice. I suggest that your Louisiana version of the
bill propose funding for the Commission to have a full time staff.
For a copy of this bill, and for more information,
contact David Usher (email@example.com).
He is President of the Council for Marriage Policy in St. Louis. You can
reach him by phone at night, 314 991-1954.
The Need for Cohabitation Reform
There were 1.7 million unwed births in 2010, 41% of
America births, and 53.6% in Louisiana in 2009, America’s second
highest rate. (By contrast, only 2% of Japanese children are born
out-of-wedlock!) There are similar low rates in South Korea, Taiwan and
Singapore. Japan and Korea’s divorce rate involving children is about
one-fifth that of the United States. No wonder American children greatly
underperform academically compared to Asian children. According to
TIME, U.S. kids score 487 on math
tests compared to 540 to 600 by Asian kids
in South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai. Why? American
kids perform poorly because their shattered home lives diminish their
capacity to learn and develop. This is an ominous omen for the future
competitiveness of the U.S. economy compared with that of Asia.
Thus, it is essential to raise
America’s marriage rate and reduce our unwed birth rate. What’s
required is what I call “Cohabitation Reform.” The National
Center for Health Statistics reports that since 2001 more than half of
all unwed births are to couples who are living together.[i]
My wife and I wrote a book on this subject, Living Together:
Myths, Risks and Answers.[ii]
The most prevalent myth is that it is a good idea to test
compatibility by cohabiting. Seems reasonable, but such a step has
profound consequences. Premarital couples cannot practice
permanence. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians “Flee fornication.
All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins
sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a
temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you…You are not your own; you were
bought with a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (I Cor.
6:18-20). St. Paul also wrote to the Thessalonians, “Test everything.
Hold onto the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” Another myth, believed
by many women, is that cohabitation is a step toward marriage. But many
men cohabit to avoid a commitment to marriage. They want
the sex, companionship and shared rent – but no commitment.
contends that cohabitation is evil. That can be proven
In 2011, according to
Census. there were 7.6 million cohabiting couples, Clergy report that
two-thirds of marrying couples are cohabiting. That means there were
1.5 million cohabiting couples who married. However, what happened to
the other 6.1 million? They experienced what we call “premarital
divorce,” that is so painful that tens of millions
never do marry! In 1970 there were 21 million never-married Americans,
but 63 million in 2010. That’s a tripling at a time when the population
grew only about 50%. Soaring cohabitation is what lies behind
the plunge of married adults from 72% to 51%.
2. Those who marry after living together
are 61% more likely to divorce than those who remained apart before the
wedding, according to a Penn State study by Dr. Paul Amato.[iii]
A more recent report suggests that half of couples who cohabited will
divorce. Even so, nearly 90% of couples who cohabit will break up
before the wedding or afterward. A nine out of ten failure rate
is evil. This is secular evidence of the wisdom of Scripture.
Marriage, Not Cohabitation
A recent report by
the Institute for American Values, “Why Marriage Matters,”
reports that the rise of cohabitation “is the largest unrecognized
threat to the quality and stability of children’s family lives.”[iv]
Some 42% of American children will live in a cohabiting household and
“are markedly more likely to be physically, sexually and emotionally
abused than children in both intact, married families and single parent
families.” However, the report does not suggest a remedy. I propose a
strategy to increase the marriage rate and reverse the 41% unwed
birth rate. How? Replace state subsidies of cohabitation with
subsidies for marriage. Millions of single mothers receive
welfare, Medicaid, food stamps and other subsidies on the assumption
they are bringing up children alone. Most, however, are cohabiting and
have the benefit of their partner’s income, as if they were married.
Therefore, I propose two answers:
Gov. Bobby Jindal should propose that if cohabiting
couples marry, they would continue receiving Medicaid, food stamps, etc.
for two years, and then these benefits would be tapered off over 3-4
years. The state should subsidize marriage not cohabitation.
Ask unwed mothers at the birth of their baby if they are
cohabiting; if so, do not give state subsidies – unless they marry and
take classes teaching conflict resolution skills.
Save Billions of Taxpayer Funds
Further, as Cheryl Wetzstein reported in The
Washington Times, “Divorce reform could save billions in
government aid.” The average divorce involves one child, which cost
taxpayers $20,000 in 2004 for welfare, Medicaid, food stamps, Earned
Income Tax Credit, housing and day care subsidies, etc., according to
the Heritage Foundation There is a similar cost for each unwed birth.
With 13 million single parent families, Heritage estimated the taxpayer
cost at $260 billion in 2004. With inflation, that is probably $25,000
per divorce or unwed birth, or $325 billion today.
If divorce rates were cut in half and cohabitation dropped
similarly, taxpayers would save more than $150 billion a year or $1.5
trillion over a decade! State legislators: take note of this
fresh way to cut deficits.
[i] “Marriage and Cohabitation in the United States:
A Statistical Portrait Based on Cycle 6 (2002) of the National
Survey of Family Growth, National Center for Health Statistics”
of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, February, 2010.
[ii] Mike & Harriet McManus, Living Together:
Myths, Risks & Answers, with a Foreword by Chuck Colson,
2008, Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, New York,
London, Toronto, Sydney.
Linda Waite & Maggie Gallagher, The Case for Marriage: Why
Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off
Financially, Doubleday, New York, 2000.
[iv] W. Bradford Wilcox, Why Marriage Matters:
Thirty Conclusions from the Social Sciences, Institute for
American Values, August, 2011.