The marriage crisis

February 1, 2014 

20131206 Couple splitting

MCT

DURHAM — MCT

Marriage in America is disintegrating. According to the Census in 2013, only 48 percent of Americans were married -- a substantial plunge from 67.3 percent in 1960. (These figures are of all people age 15 and up who were married and living together in 1960 and 2013.)

A major reason for the decline of married couples is divorce. In 1960, only 2.8 million people were divorced. By 2013 that figure jumped nearly tenfold, to 25.3 million.

America's divorce rate is actually the highest of the civilized world -- triple that of Britain and France, for example. After five years of marriage, 23 percent of Americans are divorced vs. only 8 percent of British or French.

Why? If a British woman wants a divorce, but her husband does not, they must wait five years to divorce, six in France. Five or six years allows time to reconcile. By contrast, 27 states have a ZERO waiting period, and three states require only 30-60 days. Why are these "Hot Head States" pushing couples to divorce?

An earlier columnof mine quoted a woman named Jennifer Rivera: "After being together eleven and a half years, the Family Court of Miami-Dade County was able to legally end it in 11 days. If we had more time to wait it out, such as a legalized separation, our divorce would not have happened. It was like a drive-thru divorce. That's how it felt. They have a waiting period to get a marriage license. There should be a waiting period to get a divorce."

When the couple stood before the judge, they were holding hands and crying. That night they had dinner together and spent the night together.

This divorce should never have happened.

It would not have occurred in Illinois or Pennsylvania, which require couples to wait two years if one spouse opposes the divorce. As a result, those states have divorce rates among America's lowest. Clearly, a longer waiting period allows hot heads to cool down.

Their divorce rates are almost half those of 13 Hot Head States with No waiting -- Nevada, Wyoming, Idaho, Tennessee, Kentucky, Alaska, Florida, Alabama, New Mexico, Mississippi, Colorado, Arizona and Oregon.

According to Frank Furstenberg and Andrew Cherlin's book "Divided Families," four out of five divorces are opposed by one spouse. Yet in America, one spouse can file for divorce and always get it. In the old days, one would have to prove a spouse was at fault -- due to adultery, abandonment or abuse. However, in 1969 California Gov. Ronald Reagan signed America's first "No Fault Divorce" law, allowing just one spouse to declare there were "irreconcilable differences."

Most states passed similar No Fault Divorce laws in the 1970s, and the number of divorces nearly doubled from 639,000 in 1969 to 1,189,000 in 1979.

In "How To Cut America's Divorce Rate in Half," I argue No Fault Divorce is unconstitutional. Both the 5th and 14th Amendments supposedly guarantee that "no person be deprived of life, liberty or property without the due process of the law." Yet how can there be "due process" if every divorce is granted?

Divorce deprives people of life. A divorced man will live 10 years less than a married man; a divorced woman, four years less; and their children, five years less. Divorced people and their children are also deprived of liberty. A typical father can see his kids only two weekends a month. Certainly, husbands and wives lose property when they move apart.

Yet there is no constitutional protection for 80 percent of spouses handed an unwanted divorce. Therefore, I helped design the Parental Divorce Reduction Act, introduced in Georgia as the Children's Hope for Family Life Act. It would increase the waiting period from 30 days to one year.

The bill would also require couples with kids to take a course on the impact of divorce on children before a divorce is filed. Hopefully, that would persuade many to repair their marriage. And during the year, the couple would be required to take classes to improve their skills of conflict resolution. No state has such educational requirements.

Greg Griffin, a pastor and counselor who got a divorce he did not

want, has led the battle for the bill, spending 17 months at the state legislature, meeting scores of state senators and state legislators, plus the governor.

He has positioned this as "a children's rights bill, asking legislators to view the bill through the eyes of a child, and give them every opportunity to grow up in an intact home." He asks that they think of it as looking out for the safety of children like flashing lights in a school zone.

I dream that the Children's Hope for Family Life Act passes and becomes a model for every state.

Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist whose work formerly appeared in the Ledger-Enquirer, is president of Marriage Savers, www.marriagesavers.org.

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