No Fault at Fault

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.

Russell Shaw


Russell Shaw is a freelance writer from Washington, D.C. You can email him at

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  • GaryT

    This sounds like a wonderfully reasonable thing to do.

  • I have seen McManus’ point at close range. Once either spouse does anything in a court of law which leads towards divorce, the entire process runs down a steep decline on greased rails. Wrecking the marriage is almost inevitable.

  • As the child of two divorces before age 18–and an outpatient in therapy at age 40–I can testify to the damage that divorce does to children. Staying together “for the sake of the children” used to be the rule–but a society that rejects any form of suffering for the sake of an easy out has forgotten the least among us. I don’t even like annulments–we all saw you say “I do”–but the Church says they’re there for a reason. If people knew before marriage that divorce was not an option, maybe they’d look before they leap.

  • jmtfh

    Hear! Hear!

    My four children and I are the victims of no-fault divorce in one of the most conservative states in the Union!

    My former husband decided, “he never loved me” and divorced me after 29 years of marriage. No matter that had I been a stay at home mom for 25 yrs and that I had home-educated our children, or that I had given up my career to support him in his career and raise our children, or that we were daily communicants…He is a Parish Administrator and Director of Faith Formation at a local Catholic church.

    My eldest has left the church. The youngest spent 6 days and 6 nights in an psych ward because, as an eleven yr. old, he was suicidal. Even our parish priest explained to me, wehn we went in to talk to him prior to the divorce saying, “Your husband said he never loved you. That is grounds for an annulment!

    Now my former husband he is seeking an annulment and it feels like I am going through the divorce all over. AND GET THIS! Someone in the parish actually set him up with another woman shortly after we divorced (the annulment has not been granted).

    I hope one day to work to the repeal of no-fault divorce. It leaves shattered lives and economic hardship of unbelievable proportions in its wake!!!

  • rememberCenturion

    Dear jmtfh

    You’re beautiful!

    …and: You’re a credit to the American Roman Catholic community and to the Sacrament of Matrimony! I pray that you continue in God’s Graces to keep standing for the dignity of your Sacrament and as an example for your children and your confused husband!

    If you are not yet aware, there are three websites where you’ll find some consolation and shared advice to buffer you from the abuse you’ve been suffering at the hands of the enemy and from your local church friends.

    The three web sites are the Yahoo discussion group defendingmarriage, the website Mary’s Advocates, and the website .

    I agree that it sounds like your world has turned inside out and upside down. Believe-it-or-not: Your story has been repeated in my marriage/family and in those of many more who still stand — as you are — for the Sacrament you vowed to uphold at your wedding!

    If you want to understand the depths of what has been happening for the past fourty years in America, I highly-recommend you get your hands on a used copy of Professor Robert Vasoli’s book What God has Joined Together. The author was a former University of Notre Dame professor and a sociologist. [Try]

    Lastly, “A warning”: If you believe your Marriage is valid [canon 1061.3 says that it is as long as one spouse believes it is] you will have only fifteen days to appeal the first Sentence your husband has petitioned for! If you appeal before the Roman Rota for the second opinion, you have a very good chance of having your longstanding Marriage affirmed as valid!

    Your parish priest should be counseling your husband concerning 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 in this the YEAR OF ST. PAUL! Your priest had no business second-guessing the validity of your Marriage before the Tribunal has conducted its investigation! Priests are taught canon 1060 which requires that all Marriages be held and respected as valid until proven otherwise. Sadly, what your priest said/did is all-too-common!

    May St. Mary of Cana intercede for you and for your children and may God continue to strengthen you in your stand!

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