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CROUSE: No-fault divorce hits children hardest
McAuliffe's attack on Cuccinelli amounts to feminism uber alles
To paraphrase former President Ronald Reagan, "There he goes again." Terry McAuliffe, Virginia's Democratic gubernatorial candidate, released an ad recently slamming his opponent's divorce-reform bill introduced in 2008, calling it extreme and misrepresenting what the bill, had it passed, would have done. In 2008, Republican Ken Cuccinelli, then a state senator, introduced a Senate bill to amend the Code of Virginia relating to grounds for divorce and minor children.
Evidently, Mr. McAuliffe thinks the idea of trying to protect children from going through a divorce because only one of their parents wants out is extreme. Mr. Cuccinelli's bill attempted to protect children from Virginia's no-fault divorce law by adding a provision that says a divorce will not automatically be granted after a couple with children has "lived separate and apart without any cohabitation and without interruption for one year" if one of the parents does not want a divorce.
Mr. Cuccinelli's proposal would have allowed a husband or a wife who did not wish a divorce to file an objection to the granting of the divorce for marriages begun after July 1, 2008, that include children. It would have once again made divorce a bilateral decision instead of keeping the power to divorce in the hands of one spouse only. Under no-fault divorce laws, the person who does not want a divorce has no choice if his or her spouse does want one; their marriage is declared ended by a judge.
Mr. McAuliffe's ad portrays a woman who wants out of her marriage as being trapped because Mr. Cuccinelli's bill would have prevented her from leaving if her husband objected. Virginia's current code allows for divorce in cases of adultery, in cases where a spouse goes to jail or prison for a felony and for cases of abuse, abandonment or desertion.
The purpose of bills such as Mr. Cuccinelli's is to protect children from divorce. By slowing down the process, he hoped that couples with children would work out their differences and seek to strengthen their marriages instead of filing for divorce without a chance for reconciliation. The bill also protects innocent parties in the marriage from having a divorce forced upon them by government fiat.
No-fault divorce proponents present these laws as a panacea. However, divorce has many negative consequences for all parties concerned, especially children. Consider these negative outcomes:
• The United States has the highest divorce rate in the industrialized world. In the past 40 years, approximately 40 million children have become the casualties of broken homes.
• Children are positively affected — emotionally, sexually, mentally and physically — when their parents are married, as opposed to single or cohabiting. Children of divorce carry "residual trauma" into adulthood and have double the risk of psychological problems later in life (depression, drug or alcohol abuse, and suicidal thoughts).
• Children of divorce often linger longer in the adolescent stage before embracing adulthood. They tend to be less socially competent, and tend to become more worried, underachieving and self-deprecating adults.
• Parents' divorce is a leading cause of teen involvement in risky behavior. Teens who live with their married parents are less likely to experiment with drugs, alcohol or tobacco than other teens.
• Children with two married parents have better health and a longer life expectancy than other children. One study found children of divorce had life expectancy reduced by five years.
• About 63 percent of all youth who commit suicide come from fatherless homes. Of youth who are incarcerated, 80 percent come from homes where fathers are absent, as do 90 percent of homeless and runaway children, and 71 percent of high school dropouts.
• Children who do not live with their own two parents are at a much higher risk of physical, emotional and sexual abuse.
• Children who grow up without two parents are more likely to earn less in their lifetimes than those who are raised with both parents. They are six times as apt to live in poverty.
• On average, each divorce involves one child, which makes that family eligible for welfare, Medicaid, food stamps and many other subsidies. Each divorce costs taxpayers $20,000, or $20 billion a year with a million divorces annually.
It's odd that no-fault divorce laws do not take into account the well-being of children. When no-fault divorce cases arise and children are involved, child-custody hearings and battles can be epic in deciding which spouse gets the children when. Rarely do they take into account what the children want. What if the children do not want their parents to get divorced? Do they get a vote? Social science data show that the best environment for children is living with their married mother and father. With all the blame to go around, the children are certainly not at fault for their parents' marital problems. They are the true party of no-fault, but under no-fault laws they suffer the most.
While Mr. McAuliffe tries to portray Mr. Cuccinelli's bill as "extreme" and damaging to women, he seems to ignore the children hurt by divorce. How often do we hear a policy is "for the children"? When a policy can be spun to promote supposed "women's rights," though, as Mr. McAuliffe's ad seems to do, the children are on their own.
Janice Shaw Crouse is author of "Children at Risk" (Transaction, 2010) and "Marriage Matters" (Transaction, 2012).
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