Tuesday, January 23, 2007

“For what experts say is probably the first time, more American women are living without a husband than with one,” reported the New York Times recently on Page One. “In 2005, 51 percent of women said they were living without a spouse, up from 35 percent in 1950 and 49 percent in 2000.”

These numbers are somewhat misleading. Oddly, Census data include all females over age 15. If only adults over 18 are counted, 52 percent of women are married. However, the increase of women without husbands is indisputable. Why?

It’s not due to an increase of widows, who were 11.8 percent of women in 1950 but only 9.4 percent in 2005.

Divorce is the major reason fewer have husbands. Only 2.4 percent of women were divorced in 1950 compared to 11.8 percent in 2005 — a fivefold increase. Furthermore, most divorces are filed by women. In fact, just since 1970 there have been 38 million divorces.

Secondly, there has been an alarming increase of never-married people. In 1970 there were 21 million never-married men and women aged 18 or older. By 2005, the number was 52 million. That is a 148 percent rise, more than triple the growth of population. Of those aged 30-44, the percentage of never-married men and women has also tripled since 1970.

What is not widely recognized is that these trends feed upon each other. The tripling of divorces makes young people fearful of marriage, particularly the 35 million since 1970 who saw their parents divorce. That experience fueled the number of cohabiting couples tenfold from 523,000 in 1970 to 5.2 million in 2005.

In choosing a “trial marriage,” they have unwittingly chosen a “trial divorce.” Eight of 10 will either break up before the wedding or after. The divorce rate for those who live together first is 50 percent higher than couples who remain apart until the wedding.

Therefore, it is crucial for state legislatures to strangle the beast that needlessly kills millions of marriages: no-fault divorce. It should be called “unilateral divorce” because it allows one spouse to walk away from a sacred vow to remain together “till death do us part.”

“Unilateral divorce changed the rules of marriage and how people expect to behave in a marriage and whether to stay in one,” says John Crouch, president of Americans for Divorce Reform.

“Under unilateral divorce, you don’t have freedom of contract. Without that ability to have a binding contract, it doesn’t make sense to invest yourself in an institution that can be turned inside out on you,” said Mr. Crouch, based on his experience as a divorce lawyer. “You have to be prepared for divorce. It can happen to anybody. Children cannot rely on marriage.”

If a couple marries and divorces after a year or two before there are children, that is sad but not tragic. What’s tragic is a divorce with children whose innocent lives will be scarred. They are 3 times as likely to be expelled from school, or give birth out-of-wedlock as those from intact homes and are 12 times as apt to be jailed.

Therefore the Family Foundation of Virginia is pressing for a bill that would prohibit unilateral divorce by couples with children, unless fault is proven, such as abuse or adultery. Otherwise, divorce would only be granted by the mutual consent of husband and wife.

As president of Marriage Savers, I applaud this leadership and predict that within two years of passage, the divorce rate of Virginia would plunge by one-third. Mutual consent would also result in fairer divorces with an agreement, for example, that neither could move out of state.

The Family Research Institute of Wisconsin and the Michigan Family Forum will also pursue mutual consent divorce in their legislatures to replace no-fault. Each helped lead a successful battle to amend their state constitutions limiting marriage to a man and a woman. “It makes sense to come back quickly with mutual consent to strengthen marriage and protect children from divorce,” stated Brad Snavely of the Michigan Family Forum. “We plan to have the voice of adult children of divorce pushing this. The babies of the divorce revolution can say how they have been harmed. Who can deny what they have to say?”

Virginia, Wisconsin and Michigan had a total of 82,000 divorces in 2004. If each passes mutual consent divorce in 2007, I predict they will have 27,000 fewer divorces in 2009. That’s worth the battle.

Michael J. McManus is president and co-founder with his wife of Marriage Savers.

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