Three Reforms that Could Save Marriages

marriage-wedding.jpgEvery once in a while I hear about someone who seems to speak my mind. Mike McManus is such a person. While he takes more of a political angle where I would prefer to take a spiritual one, he ends with a challenge to the churches in our country that I think we need to heed. Mike McManus is President of Marriage Savers. He writes on issues of Ethics and Religion. He wrote the following e-mail to SmartMarriages, an organization to which I keep a close ear:

“I just received an advance on a Barna Poll to be released Tomorrow, Monday, August 20, 2007 which reports that:

With the 2008 presidential election campaign well underway, a new survey suggests that the biggest issue of them all may well be one that leaders do not seem to be focused upon: the well-being of America‘s children. When asked to indicate which of eleven changes were *absolutely necessary* for the US to address in the next ten years, the issues that emerged as the front runners were *the overall care and resources devoted to children* registered by 82% of the adult population.”

This wasn’t released in time to use it in my speech, but it would have made a great intro. If you share my speech with the list you might also include this new survey finding.”

— Mike McManus

A Presidential candidate ought to consider saying . . .

The following remarks were made at Lincoln Memorial on August 19, 2007

I am Mike McManus, who co-founded, with my wife, Harriet, Marriage Savers, a national non-profit organization. We have worked with 10,000 pastors and priests in 220 cities to create Community Marriage Policies that have reduced the divorce and cohabitation rates, and raised the marriage rate. I also write a nationally syndicated newspaper column, Ethics & Religion which suggests answers to America‘s moral problems. It is an honor to speak here at America‘s first “Family Preservation Day.”

1. All of us have one thing in common. We care about the future of our children. All kids need a mother and father who love them. However, children are the product of choices by parents.

a. Millions choose either to not get married or to divorce.

b. Some 1.5 million innocent children are born annually to unwed parents. Often Dad disappears.

c. Another million children a year see their parents divorce.

d. Children often lose regular access to both parents, especially their dads.

2. The law encourages divorce, because one person can file for divorce when their spouse wants to save the marriage.

a. What was entered into by two people can be ended by one unilaterally.

b. This is called “No Fault Divorce,” because a spouse wanting divorce does not have to identify a major fault, such as adultery or abuse.

c. No Fault Divorce should be called UNILATERAL DIVORCE.

d. Courts have taken away the children of millions of parents. A father can lose his family, his home, and have to pay high child support.

3. This is a profound moral issue. Yet church leaders were either silent or ineffectual in fighting No Fault when it swept America in the 1970’s. Nor have they attempted to reform the law in the 30 years since.

4. The result: America has the world’s highest divorce rate: * Half of marriages end in divorce. There has been one divorce for every two marriages every year since 1973.

a. Many are needless, and are later regretted.

b. Another 30 million children have been born to unwed parents since 1970.

c. A third of these children are expelled from school or become pregnant as teenagers. They are five times as likely as those from intact homes to grow up in poverty, to commit suicide and are 12 times as apt to be jailed.

5. The cost to taxpayers is staggering. – $150 billion a year, according to the Heritage Foundation.

a. Nearly half of mothers and children on welfare had a failed marriage.

b. The rest came from non-marriages, such as cohabitation.

c. The government has provided welfare, food stamps, housing subsidies, an Earned Income Tax Credit and day care subsidies as a result.

d. They do not equal the value to a child of growing up with Mom and Dad

6. It is time to change history. We must speak out and give voice to the voiceless – to our children who depend on us.

a. It is time to restore the family.

b. It is time to reform No Fault Divorce

c. It is time to help unwed couples with kids really consider marriage.

d. It is time to help those in struggling marriages to save them.

e. It is time to give our children their birthright – a mother and father who will love them.

f. It is time to reduce the $150 billion cost of non-marriage & divorce

7. The Church, the one institution we expect to be concerned about morality and about the family, has remained mute. Therefore, I call upon America‘s bishops and elected religious leaders to take the lead. Jesus is quoted in Mark and Matthew saying, ‘Therefore, what God has joined together, let man not put asunder.’ America has put asunder 39 million marriages since 1970, affecting 36 million kids. As Malichi put it, ‘I hate divorce says the Lord God of Israel.'” How can America‘s clergy change things?

a. Church leaders must demand that the Presidential candidates consider three reforms that will:

i. Not cost the Federal Government — not one penny.

ii. Will slash the deficit by tens of billions of the $150 billion cost of failed marriages and non-marriages.

iii. Will put flesh on the “Family Values” rhetoric all candidates — Democratic and Republican – claim to support.

b. FIRST REFORM: Replace No Fault Divorce with Mutual Consent Divorce. A Presidential candidate ought to consider saying:

i. “What was entered into by two people should not be allowed to end unless both husband and wife agree, if they have children

ii. “If neither alleges a major fault like adultery or abuse, divorce should only be granted by Mutual Consent, or as some put it, “Both Fault Divorce.”

iii. “The States have failed to enact this reform because the divorce industry has a stranglehold on state legislatures.

iv. “Therefore I will seek a Federal law to protect children and families.

v. “Millions of parents have worked out their differences for their kids.”

vi. “More will do so in the future, if Congress replaces No Fault Divorce with Mutual Consent Divorce.

vii. “A mother or father should not be allowed to unilaterally divorce the child’s other parent.

viii. “Husbands and wives who pledged to stick together “till death do us part’ should live their vows pledged on the altar of God.

ix. “Why? Children need both a married mother and father.

x. “What was entered into by two people, should not be exited by one spouse acting alone, against the interest of their own children.

xi. “Government has an interest in the future of children, and they are best protected with the love only a married mother and father can offer.

xii. “I believe Mutual Consent could slash divorce rates by a third, saving 3 million marriages from divorce over the next decade,” Presidential candidates might say.

c. SECOND REFORM: Shared Parenting

i. “If there is a divorce, the law should mandate shared parenting or joint custody. States with the most joint custody enjoyed a big drop in divorce in the 1990’s,” a Presidential candidate could state, citing evidence:

ii. “The states with the most joint custody are Montana, Kansas, Connecticut, Idaho, Rhode Island, and Alaska.

iii. “Five of those states also had the highest decline in divorce rates: Montana, Kansas, Connecticut, Idaho and Alaska.

iv. “Why? David Levy of the Children’s Rights Council, says: ” If a parent knows that he or she will have to interact with the child’s other parent while the child is growing up, there is less incentive to divorce.”

v. “Therefore, I urge Congress to enact the proposed ‘Family Preservation and Reconciliation Act’ which would mandate shared parenting.

vi. “The same law should also mandate Mutual Consent.

vii. “I believe Shared Parenting will push down divorce rates by 25%.

viii. “More parents would be more responsible mothers and fathers.

ix. “If Mutual Consent and Shared Parenting are enacted as a package, I predict America‘s divorce rate will plunge 50% overnight,” a candidate might say. That would save a half million marriages a year from the divorce and its shattering impact on innocent children.

d. “These two reforms would save tens of billions of federal and state tax dollars now subsidizing divorce, with no real benefit to children.” “More important, millions of children would do better in school and would be more likely to grow into responsible adults.

e. THIRD REFORM: Set Aside 2% – 5% of Welfare Surplus for Marriage. A Presidential candidate might note that when Welfare Reform was passed in 1996 and signed by President Bill Clinton, it block-granted federal welfare payments at $16 billion a year, even if welfare rolls fell.

i. “Welfare rolls did plunge 61%, reducing poverty in America.

ii. “That gives states and counties an annual $9.8 billion surplus.

iii. “Some of the surplus is well spent, subsidizing day care, for example.

iv. “What is the rest of the money go? Who knows?

v. “Therefore, I will call on Congress to mandate that just 2% to 5% of that surplus be set aside to strengthen marriage.

vi. “That would be about $200 million to $500 million that would fund a statewide competition for local grants to prepare couples better for marriage, enrich exist marriages and save troubled ones.

vii. Ohio passed a 1% set aside for marriage that earmarked $12 million last year to strengthen marriage through competitive local grants. Texas passed a similar law this year.

viii. “Every state should be mandated by federal law to follow their example.

ix. “The Bush Administration is to be commended for earmarking $100 million a year for the first grants to promote marriage in 2006.

x. “But it is not enough. Of the 220 Community Marriage Policies which America‘s clergy created since 1986 with the help of Marriage Savers – only 40 have any staff or federal funding.

xi. “Community Marriage Policies mobilized tens of thousands of volunteer Mentor Couples who helped enough couples to cut divorce rates by 17.5% over seven years, according to an independent study of the first 114 c covenants signed by more than 10,000 pastors and priests in 43 states. That was nearly double the 9.4% of counties without a CMP, according to the Institute forResearch and Evaluation.

xii. “That was enough to save 30,000 to 50,000 marriages though 2001.

xiii. “With six more years and nearly twice as many Community Marriage Policies, now in place perhaps 100,000 divorces have been avoided.

xiv. “The cohabitation rate also fell in counties with Community Marriage Policies by 13.4% from 1990-2000 while it rose in carefully-matched control counties by 19.2%. * “Thus, cohabitation rates in counties with Community Marriage Policies ended the decade of the 1990s one-third lower than those without clergy cooperation (13.4% + 19.2% = 33.6%).

xv. “Also, marriage rates are rising in many CMP cities. The number of marriages in Modesto, California, the first city which adopted a Community Marriage Policy as a result of a speech I made — rose from 1,300 marriages in 1986 to 2,500 in 2005.

xvi. “By contrast, the U.S. marriage rate has fallen by 50% since 1970.

xvii. “These reforms were achieved WITHOUT FEDERAL FUNDING by some of America’s churches who trained Mentor Couples to help other couples prepare for a lifelong marriage, enrich existing ones, restore troubled one, reconcile the separated, and enable stepfamilies to be successful.

xviii. “What if an additional $200 million to $500 million were made available for competition for start-up grants of $100,000 each? Between 2,000 and 5,000 American cities and towns would have a small staff to organize the volunteers in the nation’s 350,000 churches, synagogues and mosques into Community Marriage Policies that could reduce divorce rates by one-fifth over the next decade and cohabitation by a third while increasing marriage rates by a third – at no new federal cost.

xix. “In fact I think it could save taxpayers $40 billion a year!

xx. “More important, America would be giving a new birth of hope to America‘s families and to its children,” a Presidential candidate might say. Will this vision happen? Not unless the American people and the nation’s religious leaders decide it is important enough to demand that the Presidential candidates of both parties enact these reforms. I urge you to speak to your pastor and to political leaders in your party, to demand a better future for our children, who we all love. Remind your pastors that “God hates divorce.”

—Mike McManus is President of Marriage Savers. He writes on issues of Ethics and Religion. He resides with his wife in Potomac, Maryland. He can be reached at mike@MarriageSavers.org

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