Divorce Reform IS Possible In 2013

Written by Beverly Willett

The election may be over, but America remains as divided as ever.[1]  And our leaders and our citizens have their eyes focused in the wrong direction because the number one problem facing America today is simply not the deficit or unemployment or health care. It’s family instability. Moreover, the welfare of our families and the health of our marriages is not a political, partisan or gender-related issue. Divorce reform in 2013 is not only essential, but possible.

Whenever I read the latest news about the fiscal cliff, it’s always another “cliff” that my mind wanders to.  It’s the one my family and over 40 million others have fallen off over the last 40 years.  Along with the latest fiscal crisis our country is facing, this past year we also reached what could be an equally cataclysmic juncture unless we do something to shore up our families now:  the marriage rate barely crossed the 50 percent mark.  Meanwhile, the percentage of cohabitating couples increased, and divorce rates remained high.

Yet, it is undisputed that marriage builds economic wealth and promotes physical and emotional well-being.  And that marriage helps safeguard children from the ravages of poverty, drug abuse, physical abuse, teen pregnancy, smoking, reduced educational attainments, depression and early death.

Our nation was built on the premise of unity while fully embracing our differences. Our finest moments in American history reflect our collaboration; our worst reveal our separation. So, too, it is with our relationships. Divorce reform is truly a no-brainer.

A year and a half ago, I partnered with Chris Gersten to form the Coalition for Divorce Reform (CDR), a “non-partisan coalition of divorce reform leaders, marriage educators, domestic violence experts, scholars and concerned citizens dedicated to efforts to reduce unnecessary divorce and promote healthy marriages.” I’m a Democrat; Chris was the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Administration for Children and Families during the Bush administration. Nevertheless, Chris and I are firm in our foundation.

And our supporters, including our Board of Advisors, span the spectrum from left to right. We do not let what separates us in other arenas divide us in our common mission.

We care deeply about the future well-being of our nation’s families. We know for certain that divorce does not serve that end, and that the price paid for millions of divorces over the last 40 years has proven devastating, especially for our children. We believe that a majority of the marriages that end in divorce can be saved. And we are committed to building public awareness about the negative impact of divorce and advocating for legislative reform. It’s that simple.

One of our nation’s most respected leaders had this to say about America’s divorce crisis:

“Divorce has become too easy because of our permissive laws and attitudes.”

“Recent studies demonstrate convincingly that while many adults claim to have benefitted from divorce and single parenthood, most children have not.”

“Children without fathers, or whose parents float in and out of their lives after divorce, are the most precarious little boats in the most turbulent seas.”

“With divorce as easy as it is, and its consequences so hard, people with children need to ask themselves whether they have given marriage their best shot and what more they can do to make it work before they call it quits.”

The source of these powerful statements? If you guessed a conservative, Republican and possibly Evangelical man, you’d be wrong on all counts. The leader is Hillary Clinton.  She also said: “I think getting a divorce should be much harder when children are involved.”

It is a widely held misperception that such views are only the bailiwick of Republicans and conservatives.

Indeed, when no-fault divorce came before the New York legislature for a vote several years ago, the Catholic Church had an unlikely bedfellow: the New York chapter of National Organization for Women (NOW). According to NOW New York, the New York Senate had thrown “women and children under the bus.”  The CDR believes that no-fault has thrown our nation’s fathers under the bus, too, and is therefore sponsoring modest divorce reform legislation: the Parental Divorce Reduction Act.

For over a decade, I’ve been attending an Episcopal church near my home. It’s unlike any house of worship I’ve ever attended — black, white, Hispanic, gay and straight, wealthy and poor. We come only to worship. And during the peace, we shake hands. Then we break bread. We can do the same with divorce reform.

One million children a year suffer the consequences of a broken home.  In the coming year, I urge you to pause for a moment and ask yourself:  What am I prepared to do about it?

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[1] The original version of this article appeared in The Huffington Post on November 13, 2012.

 

 

 

 

Post By beverlyw (91 Posts)

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  1. You can start by 50-50 shared time between parents and no child support. Once people realize after divorce they have to take care of themselves on half the income, I guarantee their will be more people working on counseling. The system of divorce and alimony makes it easy for one party to walk away without trying. Happened to me….I know it is happening to others.

    • I agree that people ought to know and take on the responsibility for what they sow, but your blanket proposal would result in harm and unfairness to many people. I know that the majority of divorce actions are instituted by women, and that custodial time is generally disproportionate, but you suggested removing child support. Divorce already throws women and children into poverty — for decades. Your proposal would harm children even further; children have no vote in the divorce process and are the ones harmed most already. Nor is 50-50 time always in the best interests of children. As it is their little lives are shuttled between two homes. The best solution is the one the CDR proposes — preventing unnecessary divorce in the first place. Everyone is a winner in that instance. And the PDRA is a stop-gap measure that doesn’t just allow people to instantly walk away. By the way, it happened to me, too. I completely agree that our system makes it too easy to walk away with no repercussions. We teach our children to take responsibility for their actions, but as parents want laws that allow us to ditch ours.

  2. Although I might support the current efforts, the only fair way to deal with the divorce crisis is to return to a fault-based divorce system in which judges must try cases and decide who is at fault in breaching the marriage contract. Not only is the party who wanted to stay married and work on the marriage harmed in a divorce, but so are the children, and it seems obvious that the parent who wanted to keep the marriage intact has the family’s best interest at heart. As it is, any parent, male or female, who makes sacrifices in career, residential location, or quality of life in order to make things better for the family unit as a whole will pay a high price if his or her partner decides to walk out because of “mid-life” change of mind, a more desirable sex partner, pursuit of “soul mate,” or simply fatigue in keeping a family afloat in a high-pressure world. This person should not have to lose financial support or share his or her children 50/50. (I do not advocate shutting children off from their parents, even irresponsible ones, as long as there is no danger to the child.) I lost my 22-year marriage to no-fault divorce and my children and I are paying a high price. My only crime was stupidity: getting married in the first place. Marriage has become a huge gamble, and a lot of us didn’t even know we were taking it. My advice? Don’t get married, and whatever you do, don’t have kids. Society does not value the family any longer.

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