Commentary by Dr. Mike Ross:
Imagine two sane people setting out to save the world? Sounds like the start of another Superman movie. Syndicated columnist and Washington, DC journalist, Michael McManus, once Time Magazine’s youngest reporter, has travelled America with his wife, Harriet, on an epic adventure as grand as Moses & Zipporah. It’s an extraordinary, quixotic mission to save America two by two. Their goal is to save couples from the torrid culture that ravages spouses, children, and communities alike.

In 1996, after 15 years of reporting on marriage initiatives, Mike and Harriet formally founded Marriage Savers;their goal — to save marriages and families by helping clergy in 44 states mobilize and train married couples in their congregations to mentor and help couples succeed in marriage and family life. The fruits of their efforts netted significant, positive change within the participating communities.

The Results

Amazingly, Mike and Harriet’s initial marriage saving efforts working with clergy and faith communities in 114 towns, cities and counties dropped divorce an average of 17% by 2001. Between 1996 and 2001, divorce plummets 79.5% in El Paso, a Texas border city about the size of Detroit, the major part of the third poorest metropolis in the U.S. By 2010, El Paso’s percentage of married households climbs to 54.5% and it is recognized as the “Safest City in America” from 2010 through 2012. Divorce declined 70% in Austin, a city of 850,000 Texans. Modesto and Kansas City experienced similar success.

Most remarkable, is that Mike and Harriet, so aware of smaller successes in other towns, are too humble to acknowledge how their diligent church-by-church, community-by-community effort to save marriages and families is truly a Noah’s Ark redux. Their modest mission sets out in each community they embrace to heal today’s marital ills and relieve troubled spouses by erecting not just one big Ark, but a fleet of smaller ones, each designed to sail on solid ground. Couples pile in two by two to find primary care and healing for their one-flesh union, and true love for their life journey together on a marriage saving Ark right near home.

To date, they have travelled to 44 states and 229 towns, cities, and counties to help over 11,000 clergy and houses of worship—Protestant and Catholic alike— to become love boats, “Arks of Marital Covenant” with all the amenities clergy and congregations with marriage mentor couples can provide.

Restoring Marriage
How to Rebuild the Marriage Culture in North Carolina

by Mike McManus

Marriage is in crisis in North Carolina and across America.

In 1960, nearly three-quarters adults (or 72 percent) were married. Today only half (or 51 percent) are married.

The reasons are multiple:

  • Cohabitation in the U.S. is on the rise, increasing 17-fold since 1960.
  • Marriage is in decline, with the annual number of marriages per 1,000 adult women declining more than 50 percent between 1970 and 2010.
  • Divorce continues to destroy half (54 percent) of North Carolina marriages.
  • Unwed births are increasing nationwide, representing 42 percent of North Carolina births in 2010.

However, North Carolina could encourage marriage, serving as an inspiration to other states to do the same. Some common sense reforms to the state’s no-fault divorce and child support laws, along with churches and religious leaders in local cities creating Community Marriage Policies to help couples to build and sustain strong marriages, could potentially rebuild the marriage culture in North Carolina for future generations.

Why the Divorce Rate is So High

The U.S. divorce rate is triple that of Britain or France. After five years of marriage, 23 percent of Americans have divorced, but only eight percent of British or French, and 10 percent of Canadians. Why? If a wife wants a divorce in England, and the husband is opposed, the divorce will not be granted for five years, according to Andrew Cherlin in his book, The Marriage-Go-Round.1 Six years are required in France. Five or six years allows time to reconcile.2 In the U.S., an astounding 25 states ZERO waiting period or only 20-60 days. That permits virtually no time for tempers to cool. Fortunately, North Carolina is one of the few states that require a year, and as a result, its divorces per married couples in 2008 were in the lower third of the nation.3

Another reason for the nation’s horrific divorce rate is “no fault divorce.” One spouse simply declares to the court, “I want a divorce,” and they virtually always get it. In the old days, one had to prove their partner was guilty of a major “fault,” such as adultery or abandonment. Now the law requires that no “fault” be alleged.

There are two reasons to oppose no fault divorce:

1. Unconstitutional. Both the Fifth and 14th Amendments guarantee that no person shall be deprived “of life, liberty or property without due process of law.” In a divorce, both partners lose money. Children lose the liberty of access to both parents, and one parent’s access to children is typically limited two weekends a month. That is also a loss of liberty. A divorced man will live 10 years less than a married man; a woman, four years less.4

Thus, in a divorce all are losing life, liberty and property. Furthermore, four out of five divorces are opposed by one spouse.5

2. Unjust to children.
Children of divorce are three times as likely as those from intact homes to be expelled from school or to have a baby out of wedlock as a teenager, six times as likely to live in poverty, and are three to 12 times more likely to be incarcerated.6 Children of divorce become so vulnerable; they live five years shorter lives.7 When children of divorce reach adulthood, almost all cohabit and only 60 percent marry.8 They are also more likely to divorce, because they do not have a model of a successful marriage to follow.

More Time and Education

The Coalition for Divorce Reform developed a proposal, the “Parental Divorce Reduction Act,” requiring that couples considering a divorce wait at least eight months to allow for a “reconciliation and reflection period.” If the couple has children, both parents must also attend classes on the impact of divorce on kids before filing for divorce, as well as take classes to learn skills to resolve marital conflict during the delay. A longer waiting period would be a big change for 25 states that either require no waiting period, or that require a waiting period of between 20 to 60 days for a divorce.

Nine states with a zero to 60 day waiting period have divorce rates that are 35 percent higher than states, such as North Carolina, that require a year’s delay. That’s evidence that a one-year waiting period allows time for reconciliation. The proposal would also allow and encourage parents to remain under the same roof, another step to encourage reconciliation. This is important because currently most states with a waiting period require couples to move apart,9 which encourages spouses to begin dating, and thereby decreases the odds of reconciliation.

Responsible Spouse10

Missouri is considering another reform in which the state would designate one person as the “Responsible Spouse,” committed to preserving the marriage, who would get 70 percent of family assets. Why should a spouse who abandons a family for another person and files for divorce get 50 percent of family assets? Destroying the marriage, harming spouse and children, should not be rewarded. (If there is documented evidence of physical abuse, adultery or abandonment, the person filing for divorce would be designated the “Responsible Spouse”).

Child custody would be divided in half. A four year old child would live seven more years with the mother, and then seven years with the father. A father’s influence is most needed during the teen years, while a mother’s care is best for a young child. This reform would restore justice, enabling 80 percent who don’t want a divorce to gain child custody time and family assets. It would give the partner trying to save the marriage leverage to do so. This proposal will be introduced by Missouri’s Speaker of the House this year.11

Subsidize Marriage, Not Cohabitation

A coalition of family scholars reported in “Why Marriage Matters,” that the rise of cohabitation “is the largest unrecognized threat to the quality and stability of children’s family lives.”12 Some 42 percent of children will live in a cohabiting household, and “are markedly more likely to be physically, sexually and emotionally abused than children in both intact, married families and single parent families.”

To increase the marriage rate and reverse the unwed birth rate, the state should replace subsidies of cohabitation with subsidies for marriage. Millions of single mothers get welfare, Medicaid, food stamps and other subsidies based on the assumption they are raising children alone. Most, however, are cohabiting and enjoy partner income. However, if they marry, they lose public subsidies.

Therefore the Governor could say: “North Carolina believes in marriage. If you are cohabiting with children, we will not cut your benefits for two years, if you marry, and then we will taper them off. Marriage is what is best for you, your children and the state.”

Church Leadership Needed

Clergy bear some responsibility for the failure of America’s marriages. They marry 86 percent of Americans, according to a Hart Poll,13 yet 39 percent of Protestants have divorced, more than the 37 percent divorce rate of atheists and agnostics.14 And 35 percent of born-again Americans have divorced; 23 percent of born-agains have divorced twice! Among Catholics the divorce rate is only 25 percent.15 Still, too many churches are “wedding factories.”

In recent years, two denominations have made important declarations on marriage and thousands of churches have cooperated with Marriage Savers to reduce local divorce rates:

  • The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a “Pastoral Letter on Marriage,”16 in 2009, emphasizing the importance of marriage as the building block of the culture. The 60-page document was more theological than practical. However, it did call for a new initiative in parishes that “accompanies and assists people at all stages of their journey,” and “invites and includes” the gifts of “married couples themselves.”
  • “The Scandal of Southern Baptist Divorce” was a 2010 resolution passed by the Southern Baptist Convention, which confessed, “how damaging Southern Baptist accommodation to the divorce culture is to our global witness for Christ.” But it offered no strategy to reverse course.

Neither denomination—nor any other—opposed no fault divorce at its inception, nor have any called for its reform. The silence of church leaders on this issue is puzzling. Catholic bishops and evangelicals are vocal in opposing same-sex “marriage.” What about preserving traditional marriage? Perhaps they are silent on no fault divorce because the answers are not obvious. There is a way for churches to change the marriage culture in every community and state: Community Marriage Policies.

Community Marriage Policies®

Marriage Savers’ Community Marriage Policies (CMP) have involved more than 11,000 churches in 229 cities in which diverse clergy—Protestant and Catholic—have been helped to do a better pastoral job in preparing, enriching or restoring marriages.17

Marriage Savers has trained thousands of “Marriage Mentor Couples” in those churches to implement five strategies that are particularly effective:

  • Preparation: Require every couple getting married in a city’s houses of worship to take a premarital inventory assessing their strengths and areas for growth, and ask them to meet with trained Mentor Couples to discuss the surfaced relational issues. Mentors also teach skills to resolve conflict.
  • Enrichment: Offer an annual marriage enrichment event to give all couples an economical way to strengthen their relationship, such as “10 Great Dates,” “Love & Respect, or “Fireproof.”
  • Restoration: Troubled marriages can be restored by training couples whose own marriages once nearly failed, to mentor those in crisis, saving four out of five troubled marriages.
  • Reconciliation: If one spouse wants a divorce, but the other wants to save the marriage, offer “Marriage 911,” a 12-week course designed to match up the committed spouse with a same gender friend to provide hope, helping him/her attract back the errant spouse, saving many marriages.
  • Stepfamily Support Group: Stepfamilies divorce at a 70 percent rate, but a support group, where couples with stepchildren meet regularly, could save 80 percent of them.

Impact. According to an independent study by the Institute for Research and Evaluation published in 2004 of the first 114 Community Marriage Policies 26 there were two major results:

  • Divorce Rates fell across a city or county by an average of 17.5 percent over seven years. Hickory, North Carolina, for example, the divorce rate fell 29 percent in three years. Nine cities slashed divorces by 48 percent to 79 percent (Austin, TX; Kansas City, KS and suburbs; Salem, OR; Modesto, CA and El Paso, TX.) By 2001, 31,000 to 50,000 marriages were saved from divorce. With 12 more years in the original cities and twice as many CMP cities now (229) – 100,000+ divorces have been averted.
  • Cohabitation fell by one-third in CMP counties compared to carefully matched counties in the same state without a CMP.

Restoring Marriage

The future of marriage is at stake, not just in North Carolina, but America as a whole. Nearly three-quarters of American adults used to be married. Now, only half are married.18 The never-married population has tripled. They are not happy people—95 percent would like to be married. Most are sexually active, and many have cohabited or are currently living with partners. And they are having lots of out-of-wedlock kids, who are more likely to be poor than children with married parents.19

The sad reality is that only 46 percent of American teenagers live with their own married biological parents.20 Over half of today’s youth live in chaotic homes with single, divorced or cohabiting parents—a difficult atmosphere for kids to prepare for a very competitive future as adults. Last year, 7.6 million couples were cohabitating, more than triple the 2.2 million who married. And two-thirds of those who married were cohabiting, which means they are more likely to divorce.21

North Carolina’s high divorce and cohabitation rates can be reversed with the suggested reforms in this article.

  • By extending the waiting period before a divorce can be granted from one to two years, the state can significantly reduce its divorce rate.
  • By subsidizing marriage instead of cohabitation or single parenthood, the State can encourage more unwed couples with children to get married.
  • Additionally, when churches partner with community leaders to adopt Community Marriage Policies, divorce rates will drop and marriage rates will increase statewide. (Read more at www.marriagesavers.org.)
FOOTNOTES
1. Andrew J. Cherlin, The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today, 2009, Alfred A. Knopf, New York
2. Ibid, chart p. 206.
3. Americans for Divorce Reform (ADF), John Crouch; NC divorces are 1.77 divorces per married couple, 13th lowest, SC is 1.83, 18th lowest. OK, NV, MS, AL, KY, WY, AK & ME have ZERO waiting or only 20-60 days, divorces 2.25 to 2.72
4. Clare M. Kamp Dush, Catherine L. Cohan and Paul R. Amato, “The Relationship Between Cohabitation and Marital Quality and Stability: Change Across Cohorts?” Journal of Marriage and Family 65 (August, 2003.).
5. Frank Furstenberg and Andrew Cherlin, Divided Families, Harvard University Press, 1991.
6. Pat Fagan & Robert Rector, Heritage Foundation Backgrounder, The Effects of Divorce on America, 2000.
7. Howard S. Friedman, Ph.D. and Leslie R. Martin, Ph.D., The Longevity Project, 2011, Hudson Street Press, New York.
8. Judith Wallerstein, Julia Lewis and Sandra Blakeslee, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 Year Landmark Study, 2000, Hyperion, New York.
9. Crouch, ADF
10. Dr. Michael Ross and Ron Grignol, “Broken Family Law Guidelines and Fixes”, Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly, Vol. 34, No. 2, Summer, 2011.
11. Ibid.
12. W. Bradford Wilcox, Why Marriage Matters: Thirty Conclusions from the Social Sciences, Institute for American Values, August, 2011.
13. Peter D. Hart Research Associates, July 2003 poll.
14. The Barna Group, “Born-Again Christians Just as Likely to Divorce as Are Non-Christians,” The Barna Updae, September 8, 2004.
15. What about the 50% divorce rate (52% in 2009). How’s that correct if 39% of Protestants. 25% of Catholics have divorced? Many divorce 2-3 times.
16. Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan: A Pastoral Letter of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, November 2009.
17. Paul James Birch, Stan E. Weed and Joseph Olsen, “Assessing the Impact of Community Marriage Policies® on County Divorce Rates, 2004″, Family Relations, 2004, Vol. 53, No. 5.
18. “Barely Half of U.S. Adults Are Married – a Record Low,” by D’Vera Cohn, Jeffrey Passel, Wendy Wang and Gretchen Livingston, Pew Research Center, Dec 14, 2011. In 1960, 72% of Americans were married v. 51% in 2009.
19. “Marriage: America’s Greatest Weapon Against Child Poverty, Robert Rector, Heritage Foundation Backgrounder, Sept. 26, 2010.
20. Patrick Fagan, “Index of Family Belonging,” a study of Family Research Council’s Marriage & Religion Research Institute (MARRI), November, 2011.
21. “First Marriages in the United States: Data from 2006-2010 National Survey of Family Growth,” by Casey E Copen, Kimberly Daniels, Jonathan Vespa, and William Mosher, National Health Statistics Reports, March 12, 2012.

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