Midwestern States Making It Harder to Untie the Knot DIVORCE LAW
Laurel Shaper Walters, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
TWENTY-FIVE years after "no-fault" divorce laws swept the country, Americans are starting to turn back the clock.
Next month, Michigan may become the first state in the nation to revert to a system that forces couples to go through a more rigorous legal process before receiving a divorce. Iowa is considering a similar move.
"We shifted from a fault to a no-fault system in a rush a generation ago, and we really haven't looked back," says William Galston, a professor of public affairs at the University of Maryland. "The evidence is now beginning to accumulate that the changes have not been good for minor children. And people are beginning to pay attention."
The attempt to return to tougher divorce laws reflects growing conservative attitudes about issues from welfare to education.
Some social scientists now say that no-fault laws, which removed the need for blame in a divorce, contributed to a more than 30 percent increase in the national divorce rate between 1970 and 1994. Recent research has also shown that children of divorced parents face greater difficulty than was previously thought. "Even when you take into account the level of pre-divorce conflict in the family, research shows the negative effect of divorce on minor children in virtually every dimension - economic, educational, psychological," Mr. Galston says.
Effects of divorce on children
Statistics drawn from Census data portray the negative effects of divorce. For mothers, divorce can mean a significant drop in income. For children of divorced parents, it can mean a greater likelihood of dropping out of school, getting into trouble with the law, and having children out of wedlock.
Armed with new research and favorable political trends, Michigan State Rep. Jessie Dalman (R) crafted a bill to repeal the state's no-fault divorce law. She says the 1972 law "has weakened the fabric of the family and devalued marriage." Her bill, to be introduced next month, already has won the support of Republican Gov. John Engler and the state's GOP House Speaker.
Gov. Terry Branstad (R) of Iowa agrees that no-fault laws hurt children. "I think sometimes people just decide to get divorced and don't even think about the impact on children," he says.
With the governor's support, Iowa State Rep. Charles Hurley (R) is drafting a bill that would require grounds for a divorce - such as adultery, cruelty, or desertion - unless both spouses consent to end the marriage.
Under current no-fault law, such criteria are not necessary to secure a divorce. All 50 states now have no-fault laws or variations of them.
The latest reforms are being pursued in the interests of children. …