Resources from Marriage Savers: Articles
Reform No Fault Divorce: An Economic
By Mike McManus
sky-high 14.6% unemployment rate has prompted state leaders to look for
the next Henry Ford who can create an industry to put people back to
work. If he exists, he’s in the Silicon Valley, not Michigan.
is an unconventional way for Michigan to put thousands back to work:
Cut the divorce rate in half, reducing the annual number filing for
divorce from 35.450 to 17,725.
divorce is the destruction of a small civilization. Divorced people
do not create new businesses. They are trying to survive in two
households with attorney fees on the same income that supported one
household, without attorney fees. With 600 divorces for every 1,000
marriages, Michigan has the highest divorce rate in the Midwest.
Illinois, for example, has only 440 divorces per 1,000 marriages, and
its jobless rate is much lower.
every marriage is the builder of civilization. Children thrive
only in households with their own married mother and father. Married
people are happier, healthier, wealthier, live longer and have more sex
and better sex. Marriage is also an economic engine, a job creator. How
does a mechanic create an auto repair business? He depends on his
wife’s income to help him get started. Similarly, a woman can begun a
hair salon, if supported by her husband.
In November I
made a speech at a Dallas WallBuilders conference proposing two ways
that states like Michigan could cut their divorce rates in half:
that any divorcing couple live apart for a year, if the divorce is
mutually agreed upon, and two years if contested. That is the law
of my home state of Maryland, plus Illinois and Pennsylvania. The
divorce rate of these states (2.6 divorces per 1,000 people) is half
that of ten “Hot Head States” like Michigan which require a Zero
period of living apart (AK, KY, MS, ID, WY, TN, FL, NM, NH, OR), whose
divorce rate averages 5.1 per 1,000. These states allow an angry spouse
for divorce immediately. In MD, IL and PA, the longer separation period
gives times for hot heads to cool down, and for couples to reconcile.
(These three states have an average jobless rate of 9.1%, well below
MI’s 14.6% and even the nation’s 9.7%.)
Reform No Fault Divorce in cases involving children to require the
written consent of both parents, unless a major fault is proven,
repeated adultery, serious physical abuse, abandonment. No Fault
Divorce is really Unilateral Divorce, forced by one spouse on another
even though it is opposed in four out of five cases by their mate. “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,” says Catholic Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger.
these suggestions in my PowerPoint presentation, Michigan State Sen.
Alan Cropsey introduced himself and was complimentary. I asked him,
“How much does Michigan spend on social services?” he pulled a card out
and replied, “$4.4 billion.”
“According to the
Heritage Foundation, half of that is due to divorce, $2.2 billion,” I
responded. “Less than 1% of married women are in poverty, but 24% of
divorced women are poor. That makes them eligible for welfare, Medicaid,
housing and day care subsidies, etc. If you cut the state’s divorce rate
in half, you’d be saving $1.1 billion of taxpayer funds.”
“Golly, we have
an $800 million budget deficit,” he replied. Bingo!
On the opening
day of the Legislature, Jan 13, 2010, Sen. Cropsey, who is Michigan’s
Senate Majority Floor Leader, the #2 leader of the Senate, invited me
and Dr, Michael Ross and Jay Fedewa, of the Family Rights Coalition of
Michigan, to outline our answers to a group of eight state senators and
the aides of another half dozen. I noted that Heritage estimates the
taxpayer cost of every divorce at $20,000 per year.
“If you cut your
divorce rate in half, saving 17,750 marriages from divorce, you would
save $355 million in Year One, $710 million in Year Two, as another
17,750 divorces are avoided, and $1 billion in Year Three. The savings
grow with each year.” After my 20 minute presentation, Michigan’s
senators asked questions for an hour.
Michigan No Fault Reform
Proposed & Attacked
February, Sen. Michelle McManus (a marvelous name! but no relation), the
Deputy Majority Floor Leader, #3 leader of the Senate, introduced a
bill, SB 1127, that would replace No Fault Divorce for couples with
children with Mutual Consent, unless one spouse proved the other is
guilty of a major fault, such as adultery, physical abuse or
The on line
Michigan Messenger mistakenly charged: “Under the McManus bill
those seeking divorce would be required to allege specific problems such
as adultery, physical abuse, imprisonment…”
bill would not require proving of fault, but ask couples with minor
children agree on divorce, unless one proved the other guilty of
adultery, abuse, etc. Childless couples and those with adult children,
44% of all marriages, could still get a No Fault Divorce.
might be saved? Most of them. In four out of five marriages one
spouse opposes the divorce, but can’t stop it because No Fault Divorce
allows one person to force the divorce. In perhaps 20 percent of cases,
the couples would agree to divorce. Most of the rest could be saved.
Paul Amato of Penn State reports, “Just 30 percent of divorcing spouses
reported more than two serious quarrels in the past month.” One spouse
is simply unhappy in the marriage.
spouse, however, is happy and is open to changes. Evidence? About
4,000 Detroit couples on the verge of divorce, attended a weekend
retreat called Retrouvaille, that saves four of five of marriages,
report its leaders, Mark and Betty Squier.
of studies agree that children are best brought up by both parents.
Children of divorce are three times more likely than those with married
parents to be expelled from school or to get pregnant as a teenager, are
five times as apt to live in poverty, six times as likely to commit
suicide. .Also, a divorced woman will live four years less than a
married one, and a divorced man, 10 years less.
Nevertheless, divorce attorneys are stoutly opposed. Michael Robbins, a
“Matrimonial Lawyer,” says “You can’t legislate morality and you can’t
force people to stay together if they don’t want to stay together.”
misguided! All laws are intended to “legislate morality,” like those
punishing thieves and murderers. Without jail sentences there would be
more robberies and murders. No Fault Divorce law is immoral; it
encourages quickie divorce. The law should promote marriage
preservation, not its destruction.
An Economic Development
Unemployment is expected to remain near 10 percent through 2010.
Clearly, an economic stimulus is needed. But how can the nation afford
more deficit spending with a $1.5 trillion deficit this year and
an expected $1.7 trillion next year? It can’t.
deficit must be reduced. Fortunately, that can be done even as the
economy is given a much needed stimulus. How? By cutting America’s
divorce rate in half.
marriages of the 1 million expected to end in divorce each year were
restored, there would be fewer single parent families asking for public
assistance, food stamps, Medicaid, housing and day care subsidies, the
Earned Income Tax Credit, etc. And the private cost of setting up two
households would be eliminated, while saving thousands in legal fees.
One study by the
Institute for American Values, “The Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Unwed
Childbearing,” conservatively estimated the public cost at $112 billion.[i]
It notes that less than 1% of married women and children are in
poverty, while 24% of the divorced are poor. The 2008 report estimated
that “a mere 1% reduction in rates of family fragmentation would save
taxpayers $1.12 billion annually.” Therefore, a 50% reduction in the
divorce rate would save taxpayers $55 billion.
acknowledges its estimates are low because they do not include the $40
billion Earned Income Tax Credit nor school programs for the poor, such
as No Child Left Behind (@ $24 billion). And only 8.7% of the cost of
justice programs are included, though two-thirds of those in prison are
from fragmented families. A more comprehensive estimate by Robert Rector
and Christine Kim of the Heritage Foundation, estimated the public cost
of 13 million single parent families at $260 billion in FY2004.[ii]
With six more years and a recession, the current figure is probably
$300 billion. The study, “Fiscal Distribution of Single-Parent Families
in the United States, FY2004,” estimates that half of these families
(50.2%) were either divorced or separated, which now costs taxpayers
$150 billion a year. Thus, if the divorce rate could be cut in half, the
public savings would be $75 billion a year.
divorce rates be cut in half?
this question. Why is America's divorce rate two to seven times
those of Canada and European countries?
As Andrew Cherlin documents in his recent book, The
Marriage-Go-Round, 23 percent of American couples separate or
divorce after five years. Compare that with the 10-12 percent of
couples who divorced in five years in Canada, Austria, Finland, West
Germany and Sweden; only 8 percent of the French or British; and a mere
3-5 percent of Italians, Belgians and Spanish.
First Reform: Require Two Years of
Cherlin writes, "In no other country is the waiting period for a
No-Fault Divorce so short," as in America. Germans must live separately
for three years if one spouse does not want the divorce, five years in
Britain and six in France.
Such laws grant couples time to reconcile. Clearly, they work.
By contrast, there is NO minimum time of separation in 32 states,
such as Tennessee, Michigan, Florida, Mississippi, Kentucky, Idaho and
Wyoming, according to John Crouch of Americans for Divorce Reform.
These states have “hot head laws” that favor the angry spouse, those who
want a divorce immediately. Why shouldn't state laws encourage
reconciliation? Every study shows permanent marriages benefit men, women
and especially children. For example, a married woman will live four
years longer than the divorced, and a married man, ten years longer!
Children of divorce live four years less.
states” have divorce rates that are double those of
Maryland, Illinois and Pennsylvania where couples must live apart two
years, if a No-Fault Divorce is contested.[iii]
Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that if states with no time
requirement, such as MS, ID, FL, KY, WY, TN, NM, NH, and OR adopted a
law like Maryland’s, in which a spouse seeking a No-Fault Divorce must
live separately for a year, and two years, if the divorce is contested
-- they could cut their divorce rates in half.
Second Reform: Modify No-Fault Divorce
could cut divorce rates in half by reforming No-Fault Divorce laws. Few
seem to realize that in four out of five divorces, one spouse does not
want a divorce, according to an earlier book by Cherlin, Divided
Families, co-authored with Frank Furstenberg. Yet spouses who oppose
divorce are legally powerless to stop it in 49 states with No Fault
Divorce. (NY is the exception.) No Fault should be called Unilateral
Divorce. Why should a contract that was willingly entered into by two
people, be terminated by one spouse acting unilaterally? That is unfair
and even unconstitutional. Both the 5th and 14th
Amendments guarantee that “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty
or property, without due process of law.” How can there be “due process”
if the person opposing the divorce always loses?
I propose that in cases involving minor children, that a father or
mother would have to get the written permission of their spouse to
obtain a divorce, if they cannot prove their spouse is guilty of one of
the three A’s – adultery, abandonment or abuse. I wrote a short book,
calling for a reform that would replace No Fault with Mutual Consent in
cases involving young children, How to Cut America’s Divorce Rate
in Half: A Strategy Every State Should Adopt.[iv].
I quoted Divorce Attorney John Crouch as saying, that by requiring
Mutual Consent in cases of minor 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 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."
The consensus of
both legal and religious leaders that divorce rates could be cut in
half prompted me to write
the book, If divorce rates were cut in half, each year 500,000
children would not experience a parental divorce. In an endorsement,
AFA Chairman Don Wildmon called this proposal “revolutionary and
absolutely unprecedented. It would save millions of marriages and
stabilize American families, giving kids a much better start in life. I
can’t think of any reform that could make America a better place.”
These were not just kind words. AFA bought 1,000 copies of the book,
making it available to his AFA state affiliates. Similarly, Family
Research Council President Tony Perkins wrote, “The first step in
strengthening the family is reforming no-fault divorce. Mike McManus’
latest work provides a strategy to reform this broken system.” FRC also
bought 1,000 copies, which prompted the Florida Family Policy Council
and the Wisconsin Family Council to invite me to speak at state
President of the Florida FPC, suggested that I change the name of the
reform from Mutual Consent to “Modified No Fault,” which sounded more
politically palatable. He said, “In your proposal, No Fault would remain
unchanged in cases of childless couples or those with adult children.
You are only trying to change No Fault in cases of minor children. It is
“Modified No Fault.” I readily agreed to that title, but he was still
unable to get any state senator to introduce the bill. Nor has a bill
been introduced in Wisconsin.
Why? “Modified No
Fault collides head-on with America’s worship of Personal Autonomy,” he
told conservative state legislators gathered in Dallas recently by
unemployment rate of 14.6% is the nation’s highest. More than any other
state, it needs a way to close a budget deficit. However, there are ten
states in precarious economic positions, any of which could benefit
fiscally from a plunge in the divorce rate.
Do you think it
is too easy to get divorced? Do you think the state law should be on
the side of hot heads who want an instant divorce, or should the time of
separation be stretched out for two years if the divorce is contested,
so that there is time for reconciliation? Do you think that the parent
of young children, who is most committed to the marriage, should have an
equal voice with the unhappy mate who wants a divorce?
Are you one of
the 35 million Americans since 1970 who was forced into a divorce you
did not want? Or are you one of their 42 million kids who experienced
the pain of a parental divorce? Would you like to see the law changed
to protect spouses and children who believe couples should work out
their differences for the sake of their children and each other?
Are you worried
about the mounting federal and state budget deficits? Would you like to
see a saving of federal and state funds due to divorce that ranges
between $55 billion and $75 billion, depending on which study you think
is more credible?
Call your state
legislator or state senator and ask that they consider the two reforms
outlined here, either of which might cut your state divorce rate in
that those seeking a divorce live apart for a year, and two years, if
the divorce is contested by their spouse.
that in cases of minor children, that both parents would have to agree
in writing to the divorce, unless one can prove the other guilty of
adultery, physicial abuse, etc.
are two major obstacles to these reforms. First, at present, no
constituents are asking state legislators to reform the law. Those who
got a divorce they did not want, blame their ex-. They are unaware of
their state’s unjust law that allows Unilateral Divorce. Second, state
Judiciary Committees who would consider such a law, are often composed
of 100% attorneys, who, if they are not profiting from divorce, have
colleagues who are.
What can be
the case of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Its founder, Candy
Lightener, who lost a daughter to a drunk driver, could not get her
California legislature, to raise the age at which liquor could be sold
from 18 to 21. Therefore, she convinced a Congressman to attach an
amendment to the Federal Highway Appropriations Law to reduce federal
funding by 10% to any state which did not pass state legislation to
raise the age of liquor sales to minors to 21.
raised the legal drinking age to 21. None lost any federal funds. MADD
employed the same tactic in 2000 to push states to define drunk driving
as having a Blood Alcohol Content at .08 BAC, when most states were at
1.0 or even 1.5, as in Massachusetts.
number of drunk driving deaths plunged from 30,000 a year to 13,000.
Why not follow
MADD’s example, and ask the Federal Government to reduce the Federal
Welfare Reform Surplus by 10%, unless states enact No Fault Divorce
Reform? When Congress passed Welfare Reform in 1996, the governors
insisted on one provision. If states reduced their welfare rolls by
putting welfare recipients to work, that the Federal funding of public
assistance would not drop below its then level of $16.5 billion.
Welfare rolls are down by 61%, giving states a $10 billion “Welfare
Reform Surplus” that can be spent on anything.
withhold $1 billion of the surplus, until each state enacted laws to
give both parents of young children a voice on divorce. Doubtless, as in
the MADD example, no state would lose a dollar.
But a half
million kids would not experience their parents divorce each year – 5
million children in a decade! And the federal and state budget deficits
would fall by $55 billion to $75 billion.
cause for families, children, and a healthy society!
Benjamin Scafidi, “The Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Unwed
Childbearing,” Institute for American Values, Institute for
Marriage and Public Policy, Georgia Family Council, Families
Northwest, 2008, New York.
Robert Rector, Christine Kim, “Fiscal Distribution of
Single-Parent Families in the United States, FY2004,” 2007, The
Heritage Foundation, Washington DC.
In 2006, the divorce rate averaged 5 divorces per thousand in
WY, ID, KY, FL, MS, NM, NH, OR and TN, states with a zero
required period of separation before divorce. However in the
three states which required 2 years of separation if the divorce
is contested, MD, PA and IL, the divorce rate was 2.6 per
thousand, half that of the “hot head states.”
Mike McManus, How to Cut America’s Divorce Rate in Half: A
Strategy Every State Should Adopt. Foreword by Gov. Mike
Huckabee, Marriage Savers, 2008.