Sitting down to write on no fault divorce, I thought I’d start with an Internet search on the subject. Good idea. I didn’t need to go beyond the first page to find evidence confirming something I’d suspected.
There was this: “One-week divorce. Uncontested divorce in one week by attorney at low cost.” Then there was this: “Free no-fault (uncontested) divorce legal forms for all states. Complete a divorce yourself and save on attorneys’ fees.” And more.
I’m not offering advice on which is best — hire a lawyer or do it yourself. My point is that — as I supposed — no fault divorce has indeed become quite an industry, with people out there busy cashing in on other people’s trouble.
I don’t blame this exclusively on lawyers, but the legal profession is unquestionably involved.
As Mike McManus points out in his sometimes angry new book about no fault, How To Cut America’s Divorce Rate in Half, in many states all or nearly all of the state legislators serving on relevant committees are attorneys. “If they are not divorce attorneys…who make money on divorce cases, their sympathies are with their colleagues, not with those who want divorce more difficult to obtain,” he writes.
McManus is one of the latter. This veteran journalist and syndicated columnist is co-founder, with his wife Harriet, of a group called Marriage Savers, which works to reduce divorce and cohabitation rates (the two things are related) and to increase marriage rates. How To Cut America’s Divorce Rate in Half is a product of that effort (available from Marriage Savers, Inc., 9311 Harrington Drive, Potomac, MD 20854l 301-469-5873).
McManus scathingly refers to no fault divorce as “unilateral divorce” inasmuch as this way of ending a civil marriage allows one spouse to end it whether the other spouse agrees or not.
The first no fault law in the country was adopted in California in 1969 and the idea spread rapidly from there. Numbers reflect what has happened. In 1969 there were 639,000 divorces in the United States. Six years later, the figure had soared to 1.03 million, a staggering 63% increase.
Since 1970, there has been one divorce for every two marriages in the U.S. Between 1970 and 2007, a staggering 43 million couples divorced — “shattering the lives of 41 million children,” as McManus remarks. As of 2007, 8.4% of American men and 10.9% of American women were listed in the category “divorced.” Here obviously is a social and human calamity of the first magnitude.
McManus offers a modest solution to the problem: replace no fault with divorce by mutual consent in cases where no major offense (e.g., adultery, physical abuse) is alleged and where children are involved. Too much to ask of a spouse who just wants out? Not really — for, as the author notes, statistics indicate 86% of those who describe their marriages as unhappy now are likely to be calling them happy in five years. Legislation along these lines has been introduced in several states but not yet enacted.
To be sure, mutual consent divorce is an approach to a problem in civil law. Catholics involved in what appear to be valid marriages must turn to their diocesan marriage tribunals to determine whether a declaration of nullity — there was no real marriage despite appearances — is possible. But even for such people mutual consent divorce would be a useful deterrent to rashness and haste.
As matters stand, McManus argues, American divorce law is “rigged to destroy families, not preserve them.” The time for changing that is long overdue.