Capitol Daily Memo: HB 316 – why it pays to reduce divorce

HB 316 passed the House yesterday on a 43-26 vote. The bill reinstates the 90-day divorce waiting period that had been state law until the 1990s, when the state decided to waive the waiting period for couples that took a divorce course.

Research has shown a “cooling off” period could help salvage many marriages, with some 40 percent of couples that were well into their divorce proceedings wishing they could develop a reconciliation plan.

Why is minimizing divorce a good thing? The costs of divorce – emotional, psychological, social and economic – on children, adults and communities are staggering. For this post, I’m going to focus on a few of the economic costs of divorce. 

A 2008 study, “The Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing,” estimates that family fragmentation costs U.S. taxpayers at least $112 billion each year.

These costs arise from increased taxpayer expenditures for antipoverty, criminal justice, and education programs, and through lower levels of taxes paid by individuals who, as adults, earn less because of reduced opportunities as a result of having been more likely to grow up in poverty. (Benjamin Scafidi, The Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing [New York: Institute for American Values, 2008], 5.)

A few other eye-opening statistics:

• 26.1 percent of households headed by a female, with no spouse present, receive food stamps. 3.9 percent of married households receive food stamps.
• 45.6 percent of households headed by a female, with no spouse present, receive Medicaid. 15.4 percent of married households receive Medicaid.
• Family fragmentation cost Utah an estimated $276 million in 2008. That’s nearly two times the amount spent on public safety (highway patrol, fire marshal, forensics, emergency management, drivers’ licenses, etc.) by the state in 2008.
• Increased marriage would reduce poverty of single-mother households by 65-80 percent according to two separate studies.

This data is stunning, but economic costs and benefits pale in comparison to the emotional, social and psychological costs of divorce and the benefits of stable, healthy families for children, adults and communities.

HB 316 will help reduce the incidence of divorce in Utah, which will benefit all of us.