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