Lowering Divorce Rates Urged as National Goal

Article excerpt

Conservative analysts argue that legislatures should reverse `no-fault' divorce laws and rewrite the tax code to strengthen marriages and discourage family disintegration.

Reducing divorce rates by one-third for families with children by the end of the decade should be a national goal, urge Heritage Foundation analysts Patrick Fagan and Robert Rector. If Congress set such a goal, it "would immediately focus national attention on the severe problems related to divorce," they say.

In the early 1970s, "no-fault" divorce swept the country, explains Bridget Maher, who recently published a paper, "Divorce Reform: Forming Ties That Bind" sponsored by the Family Research Council. While no-fault divorce was intended to make the process fairer and less hostile, the reforms created "a shift in power" in which the "right to divorce" took precedence over the commitment to remain married, Maher says. Four out of every five divorces since have been unilateral, or requested by only one spouse.

Maher lists "covenant" marriages, which are harder to escape than conventional marriages; laws requiring "mutual consent" for divorce; and more predivorce counseling as possible reforms. Maher, Fagan and Rector also advocate tax credits for parents in long-term marriages, marriage summits, community marriage-skills programs and laws to require both spouses to "mutually consent" to the divorce.

Federal and state governments spend $150 billion a year to subsidize single parenthood and $150 million to strengthen marriage, Fagan and Rector note in a paper titled "The Effects of Divorce on America." "Thus, for every $1,000 spent to deal with the effects of family disintegration, only $1 is spent to prevent that disintegration."

Reducing divorce and unwed child-bearing "would not only be good for children and society but, in the long run, will save money" they argue. …