With New York set to become the final state in the U.S. to allow no-fault divorces, conservative groups are urging the state governor not to give the green light.
Signing the no-fault divorce bill into law would be "a grave mistake certain to increase the divorce rate by up to 50 percent, and boost the state budget by hundreds of millions annually," says Mike McManus, president of Marriage Savers, in a commentary published in nine New York newspapers.
The column was published last week in a final attempt to preserve more marriages.
The New York State Assembly approved legislation last month that would allow one spouse to state under oath that the marriage has been irretrievably broken for a period of at least six months. Under current law, one spouse must allege fault on the part of the other spouse, such as cruel and inhuman treatment, adultery, abandonment or confinement of the defendant in prison.
New York is the only state that does not allow no-fault divorces.
California was the first in the country to adopt a no-fault divorce law in 1969. The rest of the states passed copycat laws, allowing just one spouse to unilaterally end a marriage, McManus explains.
McManus argues that New York's current law has kept the state's divorce rate low at 38.7 percent and signing the legislation would push the rate up to that of its neighboring states – 56 percent in New Jersey and 60 percent in Connecticut.
The social costs of an increased divorce rate are high, he suggests.
"Divorced people live shorter lives: men, 10 years less; and women and children, four years less," says McManus, author of How To Cut America's Divorce Rate in Half. "Children of divorce also are three times as likely to become pregnant as teens or to be expelled from school, are five to six times as apt to live in poverty or to commit suicide, and three times as likely to be incarcerated."
Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, who directs the John Templeton Center for Thrift and Generosity at the Institute for American Values, also points to the effects of divorce on children. In commentary in The New York Times, Whitehead notes that in situations where parents are engaged in high levels of conflict, children are better off if their parents divorce. However, in low-conflict families, children are better off if their parents stay together. And the majority of parental divorces today occur in low-conflict situations, she points out.
Along with social costs, opponents of no-fault divorce also point to the fiscal problems of a higher divorce rate.
"According to the Heritage Foundation, each divorce costs taxpayers an average of $20,000 for welfare, Medicaid, food stamps and other subsidies," McManus states. "Since New York is more generous than other states, the cost is more likely in the $25,000 range.
"If the state's divorce rate rises to that of Connecticut, those 29,000 additional divorces could cost taxpayers an additional $725 million, 38 percent of which is paid by New Yorkers: $276 million."
McManus has urged Gov. David Paterson to veto the bill and maintain legislation that encourages couples to work out their differences. And he hopes other states will follow suit.
Based in Maryland, Marriage Savers works closely with clergy and legislators and has for years encouraged reform in the country's no-fault divorce laws. McManus argues that in 80 percent of divorce cases, one spouse didn't want the divorce. He suggests replacing no fault divorce with "mutual consent divorce," in which both parties of the marriage have to agree to the divorce in cases where adultery, abuse or abandonment is not involved.
Such reforms, he believes, would cut divorce rates by 30 percent.