WASHINGTON – Advocates for divorce reform attacked the current legal system as incentivizing family break-up, and encouraged methods to combat divorce across the United States at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday.
"Nowhere is government more in the bedroom than in divorce," Beverly Willett, co-chairman of the Coalition for Divorce Reform, declared. Willett argued that rather than making the system more invasive in people's private sex lives, reforms to the legal system involving family break-up would encourage more freedom. "If you want government out of the bedroom, push divorce reform."
Willett shared her own story of divorce. "I grew up believing the words 'to death do us part' were non-negotiable," she said. With a breaking voice, she told of fighting to save her marriage after her husband told her of an affair and served her with divorce papers.
She took solace in the fact that New York was the only state that had not yet passed no-fault divorce, a provision that enables married couples to legally dissolve their union without blaming one partner or the other. But when she entered the court room to fight for her marriage, she found that "no one cared about right and wrong or about saving marriage," they all assumed the divorce was going to happen.
It was then Willett realized that the legal system had become "a multibillion dollar family dissolution machine." She lamented that "I am only one of millions of spouses and children who have no voice and no choice in their marriage and in the keeping of their families together." The entire system, she said, focuses on the "symptoms" of divorce, as opposed to confronting the central issue. "What's important is how people divorce, not if they divorce," the divorce reform advocate explained.
To combat the dissolution of families, Willett started the non-partisan Coalition for Divorce Reform. "I believe that right and wrong and honoring our marital commitment and loving our family and our children has nothing to do with being Democratic or Republican," she declared.
Willett laid out a "2 prong" legal reform: building a waiting period of one year, or two years if the divorce is contested, and requiring marriage education classes and classes about the effect of divorce on parents and children. She predicted that divorce reform will go forward in Georgia next year and in Texas in 2015.
"The public cost of divorce is really not talked about much," Mike McManus, co-chair of Marriage Savers and author or Marriage Savers: Helping Your Friends and Family Avoid Divorce, declared. He estimated the public cost of divorce from Medicaid, food stamps, housing subsidies and other federal and state programs is $25,000. In Virginia alone in 2011, there were 31,000 divorces, which means that one year of divorce cost taxpayers $775 million.
If Virginia passed divorce reform legislation requiring couples to wait one year before finalizing their divorces, it would give the state a one-year budget bonus, McManus argued. He also pointed out that a divorced woman lives an average of 4 years less than a married woman, while a divorced man lives 10 years less, and children of divorce parents live 5 years less, on average.
Under the 5th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution, McManus claimed, no-fault divorce is unconstitutional, since it deprives children and a partner of "life liberty or property without the due process of law."
The divorce reform advocate quoted Michael Reagan, son of the late President Ronald Reagan, who wrote that "Divorce is where two adults take everything that matters to a child – the child's home, family, security, and sense of being loved and protected – and they smash it all up, leave it in ruins on the floor, and then walk out and leave the child to clean up the mess."
While McManus advocated for legal reform, he also encouraged a culture of marriage, including premarital mentoring, marriage enrichment, and the process of restoring troubled marriages. His Marriage Savers group has found great success decreasing the divorce rate and the cohabitation rate in cities they have visited.
"We need to teach married couples how to be discreet again," said Hilary Towers, a developmental psychologist who writes on these issues in the Catholic Church. Towers argued that marital commitment forms a healthy wall of protection where men and women keep themselves from looking at other potential partners. Forming friendships with other committed married couples will help create a culture of marriage and fight divorce, Towers said.