|What Can I Do to Help Reform Divorce?|
A. Decide To Use Your Influence To Help
"Picture this scene. You are an 11-year-old boy. Your Mom and Dad have been drinking and you are awakened by their yelling. As you hear the sound of objects being thrown, you look into the living room. You see your Mom and Dad throwing things at each other. A heavy ashtray flies across the room, missing your Mom. I am the 11-year-old child who witnessed the scene," said Pastor Bob Dailey who organized the creation of a Community Marriage Policy in Bedford, IN on April 4, 2008, with the help of Marriage Savers.1 "My parents divorced... That is why I am here today." Thanks to his leadership, 30 pastors and priests signed a covenant:
Are You a Victim of Divorce?
Are you an adult child of divorce with a similar story of pain? Are you old enough to forgive your parents, which has to be Step One? (In the case of Rev. Dailey, his father's drinking grew into full-fledged alcoholism after his divorce and he died in an alcoholic stupor when Bob was only 20, but not before Bob told his dad that he was forgiven for destroying his home.)
Just as Pastor Dailey turned his misery as a child into a marriage-saving ministry, you can become a leader in a movement to reform divorce. If you suffered from the divorce of your parents, did you realize that this experience may explain why you may have had difficulty building a lifelong marriage? Mike and Harriet McManus, co-founders of Marriage Savers, recently wrote a book. Living Together: Myths, Risks & Answers, which provides evidence that the major reason couples cohabit rather than marry - is due to a fear of divorce, based on the experience of growing up in a family shattered by divorce or by a non-marriage.2 Perhaps you have lived through a personal divorce, so you know the pain that you would like see others spared of. Or perhaps people close to you, such as a brother or sister have suffered from an unwanted divorce.
However, to become a leader in reforming divorce, you must move to a new level of understanding - from a purely personal view of the harm of divorce - to comprehending why half of America's marriages are failing.
Most Divorces Do Not Involve Major Conflict
First, it is important to realize that in 70% of divorces, there was no severe conflict as between Rev. Dailey's parents.3 According to researchers Paul Amato and Alan Booth, nearly three-fourths of those who divorce have a marriage that seems as stable and happy as marriages which survive. Often, one spouse is surprised that a partner wants a divorce, because he/she is happy in the marriage. However, No Fault Divorce allows one person to file for divorce without citing any particular fault in the marriage. As noted earlier, No Fault Divorce should be called Unilateral Divorce, because it allows one person to unilaterally divorce the other.
Most Divorces Are Unwanted by One Spouse
In fact, research by Frank Furstenberg and Andrew Cherlin indicates that 80% of the cases, one partner does not want the divorce, but has it forced upon them.4 There is no violence, no adultery, no alcoholism, no abandonment - traditional, accepted ground of divorce. The law actually encourages divorce, because it allows divorce for insubstantial reasons. Often the spouse wanting a divorce simply says, "We drifted apart."
However, the spouse trying to save a marriage will often offers to "do anything" to save their marriage - see a counselor or go on a marriage retreat such as a Family Life Weekend or Marriage Encounter. In fact, two million couples have attended a Marriage Encounter weekend where four of five couples actually fall back in love.5 In one major study of 4,000 couples who attended Marriage Encounter, 45% of attending couples said their marriage were only "average" or "unhappy," before the weekend retreat! Yet, nine out of ten attendees gave Marriage Encounter high marks for reviving their marriage.6 This is evidence that couples who drift apart can have their marriages revived.
Divorce Is Always Granted - Harming Children Profoundly
The law always allows the divorce to be granted if one person wants out. What was entered into by two willing people - can be terminated by one person even if no major fault is alleged, such as adultery, abandonment or physical abuse. If the couple has no children, that outcome is sad. However, what is truly tragic is if children are involved. They are the innocent victims of the selfishness of one parent who forced the destruction of the marriage. Research is unanimous on the harm of divorce to children. For example, here are three conclusions from Why Marriage Matters: Twenty-One Conclusions from the Social Sciences, written by the Institute for American Values in New York, NY:
The Public Supports Reforms of Divorce
A TIME/CNN Poll reports that by nearly 2-1 (61% to 35%), the public believes that it should "be harder than it is now for married couples with young children to get a divorce." Thus, you can be confident that the public will support your efforts to Reform Divorce.
What Can YOU Do To Reform Divorce? Eight Steps:
1. See Your State Legislators. The odds are that your State Representative in the Legislature and your State Senator have never spoken with a constituent who asked for either of these two steps to Reform Divorce that could reduce your state's divorce rate by 50%. Below is a table which provides data on how many divorces occurred from January-June for the years 2005, 2006 and 2007 for most states. (Some states such as California, Indiana, Louisiana do not tally their numbers of divorces for reasons that are baffling.) Why not propose that your Representative or Senator lead the battle to slash your state's divorce rate in half, saving _____ marriages a year in your state? There is no better time to do so than in this election season.
2. Build a Reform Divorce Committee. Ask your friends who have also suffered from a divorce as a child of divorce or as an adult to join you in this fight. If ten friends form a Reform Divorce Committee, each of you could talk to 10 Representatives and 10 Senators. Create a Blog, and ask your ten friends to do the same. If each reaches out to ten new victims of divorce, you now have a Reform Divorce Committee of 100 who could become a real political force. One place to start is might with the Children's Rights Council, which has chapters in 27 states made up of activists who have had a divorce forced upon them. For more information, contact David Levy, 301 459-1220.
3. Hold a Press Conference in your state capital, with your Reform Divorce Committee of 100, in front of the dome of the State Capitol, and demand that the appropriate committees of the Legislature hold hearings on the need to Reform Divorce. Give any state Representative or Senator who is willing to take the lead in fighting for reform, the visibility of speaking at your press conference. You could use data published in the new study, released on April 15, 2008, on the costs of family fragmentation, for your own state, "The Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing." For a copy call the Institute for American Values, 212 246-3942, which will tell you to download the study, with state-by-state data.
4. Draft legislation. Legislative drafting is complicated. You need help from experienced experts, but unfortunately, many of the people with that expertise may not agree with reforming divorce laws. Legislators and lawyers will be very helpful, if they fully agree with your cause. You should also contact John Crouch of Americans for Divorce Reform or Mike McManus of Marriage Savers for drafting suggestions and advice, and review the many samples of reform legislation at www.divorcereform.org.
However, here are three versions of how No Fault Divorce could be replaced by a requirement of Mutual Consent if children are involved, and no major fault such as abuse, adultery or conviction of a felony are alleged: They are each relatively simple additions to current law. It should be added, however, that none have become law.
a. The Virginia bill (2008) provided that unilateral divorce "shall not apply if
b. The Utah bill (2005) provides that a divorce may not be granted on the grounds of irreconcilable differences if:
c. The New Mexico bill (2003) limits the reliance on incompatibility as grounds for divorce "Unless there is mutual consent based on both parties agreeing that incompatibility exists or the district court funds that domestic abuse...has occurred and has entered an order of protection pursuant to the provisions of that act.
5. Ask the Governor to Support Reforming Divorce To Slash Divorces in Half. No one is more visible than a governor in a state. His/her support would guarantee that Divorce Reform would be debated and considered seriously.
6. Create a Website Linked to www.ReformDivorce.org.
Each group of activists needs to have its own website that makes a case for reform, and keeps track of how the issue is faring. This website will offer to exchange weblinks with any group organizing in any state. Thus your work will inspire other states to follow your example. Think of your group as a "City on a Hill," as Jesus put it, an example to others.
7. Build a Movement. It is unrealistic to think that the "ignorance and fear" which dominates current thinking on Divorce Reform by state legislators13 can be overcome -- unless a grassroots Reform Divorce Movement is created with thousands of activists, all of whom call upon their state legislators to act on this issue.
a) Recruitment: Activists can be recruited from the 30 million adult children of divorce and the 50 million men and women who are under court orders due to a divorce, from clergy, social workers, and other leaders of the "helping professions" who see the impact of divorce every day, and even from grandparents who no longer have access to their grandchildren after a divorce.
b) Editorial Endorsement: Reforming Divorce is a new issue to the press. Leaders should make a point of asking to sit down with the editorial boards of local newspapers, and ask them to support the cause. Chances are, they will ask the activists to write a 750 word column making a case for such a step. If you write such a column, or if the newspaper writes an editorial in support, send it to this Reform Divorce website, and it will be posted here to encourage others to follow your initiative.
c) Candidates In an Election Year. Of course, 2008 is an election year. Ask your state Representative and Senator if he/she would support steps to slash America's divorce rate in half. If your legislator is uninterested in the issue, go to his/her opponent in this year's elections. Make this an issue that candidates dare not take a stand upon.
8. Set a Goal: Enact Reforms in 2009
Reform Divorce suggests that State Reform Divorce Committees set a goal of passing a law to enact Divorce Reforms in 2009. That means you must spark the movement for action during 2008. A quarter of the year is already passed.
"The fields are white unto harvest, but the workers are few," as Jesus put it.
Remember the Words of Malachi
Malachi, the writer of the last book of the Old Testament has searing words that should remain in the minds of activists:
"You flood the Lord's altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. "Why?" It is because the Lord is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.
"Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.
"I hate divorce," says the Lord God of Israel..."So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith."
"He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse."14 Malachi 4:6.
Table 2. Provisional number of marriages and divorces: Each state and Puerto Rico, cumulative figures for January-June, 2005-2007 by the National Center for Health Statistics (omitting some states which did not submit divorce data).
NOTE: Figures include all revisions received from the states and, therefore, may differ from those previously published; see ''Technical Notes.''
1 The Bedford Community Marriage Policy was the 221st in America which was created with the help of Marriage Savers, the organization which created this website. Divorce rates have fallen in the first 114 Community Marriage Policies signed by 2000 by an average of 17.5% in seen years, according to a study by the Institute for Research and Evaluation. Cohabitation rates also fell during the 1990s in CMP cities by one third lower than carefully matched cities which did not adopt the marital reforms. To learn more, go to www.marriagesavers.org.