Marriage absence is the greatest domestic problem America faces. Our most daunting social, economic, budgetary, criminal and constitutional dilemmas are driven by marriage absence and will not abate unless traditional marriage is protected and encouraged.
Establishing sensible policies to return America to a marriage-based society will prove rewarding, productive and seminal. The major problems of most unmarried mothers and their children will be naturally resolved. A woman's right to be supported by, cared for and helped by her husband will be ensured. Health-care coverage will become commonplace without resorting to national health care. Chronic budgetary deficits at state levels will disappear, and the federal deficit will drop as the number of single-parent families costing taxpayers $20,000 each plummets. Most children will grow up in intact homes, disciplined and prepared to learn in school. Substance abuse, child abuse and neglect and poverty will decrease to manageable norms. The dollar will regain strength as the currency of world exchange.
The future of the United States is in jeopardy. Therefore, we must recreate marriage in America now, while we still have time to prevent certain financial and social collapse.
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The rewards of the following "Marriage Values" policies are certain. We can reconstitute our nation's most valuable asset: healthy marriages, the social and economic cornerstone on which all successful nations have been powered.
Ensuring heterosexual marriage as the social norm
No-fault divorce laws were a mistake that encouraged marital irresponsibility, resulting in a 50-percent divorce rate, a 51-percent decline in marriages since 1970, a sixteenfold hike in cohabitation and an 800-percent increase in out-of-wedlock births. Marriage as an institution is no longer trusted by younger Americans. That's why the number of cohabiting couples soared from 430,000 in 1960 to 6.8 million in 2008, and unwed births jumped from 224,000 to 1.71 million. The "Marital Responsibility" model presumes it is responsible to remain married and cooperatively work through relationship issues as they arise.
Two new methods of "Responsible Dissolution" will be established. "Mutual Consent" dissolution will permit divorce with the voluntary consent of both spouses, without hearing or litigation. Most divorcing spouses will use this method. "Necessary Dissolution" permits divorce for defined reasons, which must be proven. Evidentiary standards are changed to conform to rules of best evidence. The spouse who does not want a divorce in a Responsible Dissolution will receive three-fourths of marital assets. The spouse who files for Responsible Dissolution without cause can leave the marriage, but will be penalized financially for doing so. No-fault divorce laws will be reformed to require Mutual Consent and Necessary Dissolution.
Where children are involved, move-away laws like that in Missouri will discourage arbitrary relocation and thus maximize parental resources for children, encourage spousal cooperation and reduce child abuse and neglect.
Impacting substance abuse in the family
Eighty-six percent of major domestic violence involves substance abuse, and most unhappy marriages suffer from it ("Bank on It: Married Couples Are the Happiest," the National Marriage Project, Jeffrey Dew). "Family Intervention Orders" will give the responsible spouse a power tool to leverage the abusing spouse into recovery, or face a "Responsible Dissolution."
Defending marriage from invaders
Marital-interference laws are needed to protect marriages from invaders by young outsiders who misuse sex to entice a more-affluent spouse out of a marriage and seize the place of the former wife or husband. Marital-interference laws will ensure marital assets cannot be touched, result in steep fines to the perpetrator and seize any future income from tabloid stories and "tell-alls."
Community Marriage Policies
There are two generations of adult children raised outside of intact marriages who have difficulty establishing and maintaining long-term marital relations. Community Marriage Policies are the seedbed for restoring traditional marriage as the social norm. More than 10,000 clergy members across denominational lines have agreed to implement five proven reforms promoted by the organization Marriage Savers in 228 communities.
- Require four to six months of marriage preparation that includes taking a premarital inventory and meeting with trained Mentor Couples to discuss the assessment, who also teach conflict-resolution skills.
- Organize annual marriage-enrichment events such as "10 Great Dates" or "Fireproof" classes to revitalize existing marriages.
- Restore troubled marriages by training couples whose marriages once nearly failed to mentor those in current crisis.
- Reconcile separated couples with a self-guided, economical course, Marriage 911, taken by the spouse most committed to the marriage, with a friend of the same gender, saving half of marriages headed for divorce.
- Enable stepfamilies to be successful by creating Stepfamily Support Groups that save four of five marriages that usually fail at a 70 percent rate.
If a group of congregations creates a Community Marriage Policy, Marriage Savers will train Mentor Couples to implement these reforms.
Results: Individual churches that adopt these reforms can virtually eliminate divorce in their congregations. If scores of churches take this step across a city or county, the divorce and cohabitation rates will drop, and marriage rates will rise. An independent study by the Institute for Research and Evaluation, of the first 114 Community Marriage Policies established by 2000, found that divorce rates fell 17.5 percent in seven years (and eight cities cut divorce rates in half such as Austin, Texas; Kansas City, Kan.; Modesto, Calif.; Salem, Ore.; and El Paso, Texas). The cohabitation rate in Policy counties also fell by a third compared to carefully matched counties in each state. Marriage rates are now rising after years of decline. The Institute estimated that 31,000 to 50,000 marriages were saved from divorce by 2001. With nine more years in the original cities and twice as many Policies by 2010 (228), probably 100,000 divorces have been averted. No other intervention has saved so many marriages!
- Church denominations will be urged to take the lead in fostering Community Marriage Policies. They are volunteer-based strategies to provide inexpensive marriage preparation, maintenance and restoration programs. Trained Mentor Couples who have long-term successful marriages are equipped to assist other couples at all stages of the marital life cycle. Policies will also help spouses considering mutual-consent dissolution either to reconsider or to plan for the best outcomes for couples and children.
Requiring waiting periods for divorce
In cases of Mutual Consent Divorces, parents would have to live apart for a year before the divorce takes effect. Why? Maryland, Pennsylvania and Illinois, which require six months to a year of separation, and up to two years if contested, have a divorce rate half that of nine "Hothead States" with a zero waiting period. Why does a waiting period reduce divorce? A one-year period allows time for hotheads to cool down and for reconciliation to take place. In cases of "Necessary Dissolution," couples must live apart for six months to allow for reconciliation.
Effective shared-parenting laws
Children of divorce or of nonmarriage need parenting by both mother and father, unless a parent is found unfit. Each parent will get at least one-third time with the children. Shared-parenting laws will assume a default change of custody from one parent to the other at the halfway point to the date of emancipation, unless the parents voluntarily agree to another arrangement, assuring that the children will receive approximately one-half of their upbringing from each parent.
"Welfare to Marriage" policy
Welfare and child support will be modified to discourage long-term nonmarriage. Shared parenting will be required unless a parent is found unfit, is incarcerated, or voluntarily waives custody. The emphasis will be on building marriage or remarriage and maximizing parental access to children. If a single parent is cohabiting, current subsidies such as Medicaid and Earned Income Tax Credit would not be sharply reduced if the couple marries, as at present, but would be phased down over time.
Trickle-down social policy: monitoring and correcting impact of policy on marriage
Trickle-down social policy requires measuring and minimizing impact of social programs on marriage. Six states currently do not tally their number of divorces. Such data are necessary to measure change. Marriage, divorce and cohabitation rates will be monitored. Long-term nonmarriage rates will be tracked. Impact of welfare, child-support, domestic-violence, divorce and other federal and state policies will be followed to discover and mitigate programs unnecessarily harming marriage.
Sustainable manufacturing jobs for working-class Americans
The egress of manufacturing jobs overseas weakened marriage and fostered expansion of welfare. This was paralleled by the rise of a belief by some that everyone must have a college education to be employable. However, information and service sectors cannot provide enough jobs. We must maximize competitiveness to repatriate manufacturing jobs for working-class Americans. Personal and corporate taxes should be waived on all manufacturing jobs that pay $15 an hour or less, with no penalty for marriage. This will reduce manufacturing costs in the U.S., stimulating the return of millions of working-class jobs needed by millions of Americans.
David R. Usher is the president of the Center for Marriage Policy and has written guest columns for WorldNetDaily.
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Mike McManus is president of Marriage Savers, has been a nationally syndicated columnist for 33 years and is author of five books on marriage, most recently: "Living Together: Myths, Risks & Answers" and "How To Cut America's Divorce Rate in Half: A Strategy Every State Should Adopt," both of which were published in 2008.