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Christian Broadcasting Network Features Marriage Savers in KY:
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Proposed Louisiana Divorce Reform and Cohabitation Reform. CLICK HERE TO READ.

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Marriage Savers Newsletter Sept 2010

Marriage Savers 'Divorce-Proofing' Couples. CBN News Feb 2010

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Marriage Savers coming to town
Group aims to help area singles find lasting love
Marriage reform proposed to lower divorce rate by half
Counseling Could Be Best Wedding Gift
 

Proposed Louisiana Divorce Reform and Cohabitation Reform

By Mike McManus,

President, Marriage Savers

 

Testimony to the Louisiana Marriage Commission

February 5, 2013

No Fault Divorce Reform

 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.

 

1.       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 divorce.  

 

2.       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.   

 

3.       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.

 

4.       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.

·         Responsible Spouse 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. 

However, if 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.

Missouri Divorce Reform

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 outlined above.

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 (drusher@swbell.net). 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.  

 

Marriage Savers contends that cohabitation is evil.  That can be proven statistically:

 

1.       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.  

Subsidize 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.

[iii] 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.