- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 4, 2000

Reducing divorce rates for families with children by one-third by the end of the decade should be a national goal, says a research paper on the national consequences of divorce.

If Congress set such a goal, it "would immediately focus national attention on the severe problems related to divorce," said Heritage Foundation analysts Patrick F. Fagan and Robert Rector in their recent paper, "The Effects of Divorce on America."

Reducing divorce rates by a third, they add, would bring it down to the 1970s rates.

The early 1970s is when "no-fault" divorce swept the country, notes another research paper, issued two weeks ago by the Family Research Council.

Since then, divorce rates "skyrocketed," said the paper, "Divorce Reform: Forming Ties That Bind," written by Bridget Maher.

One 1991 study showed that four out of every five divorces were unilateral or requested by only one spouse, it said.

Both research papers offer corrective solutions, including 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.

The Heritage paper finds that the effects of divorce are not only long-lasting, but "spill over into every aspect of life," said Mr. Rector.

Federal and state governments spend $150 billion a year to subsidize single parenthood and $150 million to strengthen marriage, he and Mr. Fagan wrote. "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 childbearing "would not only be good for children and society but, in the long run, will save money," they said.

According to studies, the Heritage paper said, children whose parents divorce:

• Are increasingly the victims of abuse and neglect.

• Exhibit more health problems mental, emotional and physical.

• Are more frequently involved in crime and drug abuse.

• Have higher rates of suicide.

• More frequently demonstrate a diminished learning capacity.

• Perform less well in reading, spelling and math than peers from intact two-parent homes.

• Are more likely to repeat a grade, have higher dropout rates and lower rates of college graduation.

• Are more likely to live in homes with reduced incomes.

The 1996 welfare law, which promised to promote work and marriage, is due for reauthorization next year, said Mr. Rector.

It's time for those who want to preserve marriage to remind Congress and the governors that they have yet to make good on the "promoting marriage" part of that law, he said.

In her paper for the Family Research Council, Miss Maher said that no-fault divorce was intended to make the process fairer and less hostile by no longer requiring a spouse to prove that the other had committed adultery, was cruel or deserted the marriage.

Divorce was not made fairer, however, she wrote. Instead, no-fault reforms created "a shift in power," in which the "right to divorce" took precedence over the commitment to remain married.

She listed "covenant" marriages, which are harder to escape than conventional marriages; laws requiring "mutual consent" for divorce; and more pre-divorce counseling as possible reforms.

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