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Critical Report

Assessing the Impact of Community Marriage Policies on County Divorce Rates
Paul James Birch, Stan E. Weed, and Joseph Olsen

Community marriage initiatives (CMIs) are designed to strengthen marriage and increase marital stability by addressing relevant laws, policies, and cultural factors. We examined a specific CMI designed to lower divorce rates by establishing a shared public commitment among clergy to strengthen marriage. A mixed-effects general linear model was used to determine whether changes in divorce rates over time were different before than after in 122 sites. Results indicate that divorce rates declined more rapidly following adoption, and this decline was larger than that observed in comparison counties. This difference in declines translates into a 2% difference annually in favor of CMI counties. Implications for measuring the  effectiveness of CMIs are addressed.

Researchers, therapists, policymakers, and clergy have studied and discussed marriage and divorce for decades, resulting in a general consensus around two basic themes. First, divorce increases the likelihood of negative medical, legal, financial, social, physical, and mental health consequences for both parents and their children (Doherty et al., 2002; Stanley 2001). Although there are examples where divorced individuals are better off than when they were married, married couples and their children, on average, do better on nearly every front than those who are divorced (Doherty et al.; Waite & Gallagher, 2000). Second, communities and societies have lower crime and poverty levels when the proportion of intact families is higher (Doherty et al.).