Make marriage easy to break, and guess what? – Mero Moment, 8/5/14

Leopold_Pilichowski_-_The_broken_jugThis post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

If you make something easy to break, it gets broken. This is self-evident. It’s why poorly made toys break more often and poorly made clothes shrink, tear and wear out more easily. The principle applies in the business world, too. Why do you think cell phone companies make it so hard and costly for you to break your cell phone contract? Because the harder it is to do, the fewer cell phone customers will do it.

Why, then, as a society, have we decided to make marriage, one of our most fundamental structures, so easy to break through no-fault divorce?

First, some background. The concept of no-fault divorce originated in the 1960s with a group of California lawyers who were tired of the bitterness of the combative divorce process.

Legislatures considering bills that dramatically shifted their marriage policies treated the issue as a “routine policy refinement, rather than controversial social reform.” As Maggie Gallagher puts it: “It was not an anguished public, chained by marriage vows, that demanded divorce as a right. The revolution was made by the determined whine of lawyers, judges, psychiatrists, marriage counselors, academics, and goo-goo-eyed reformers who objected to, of all things, the amount of hypocrisy contained in the law.” Thus, “[i]n a single generation, marriage ha[d] been demoted from a covenant, to a contract, to a private wish in which caveat emptor is the prevailing legal rule.”

Utah, unfortunately, is no exception to the general trend toward weakening the legal status of marriage. The no-fault revolution came to Utah in 1987. It appears that, as with most other states, this dramatic abandonment of the longstanding norms of marriage policy prompted little comment or controversy. Today, it would take only a cursory call to an attorney to learn that Utah courts now only need “irreconcilable differences” as reason to divorce. No other grounds are necessary.

The results are stunning. From 1960 to 2011, the number of divorces per 1,000 married women increased 127 percent. At the same time, the number of new marriages per 1,000 unmarried women over 15 fell 123 percent. So, when marriage is easy to break, it is broken more often and is quickly seen as unnecessary to have and unnecessary to venerate. Society soon believes marriage is not special; it can mean whatever two consenting adults want it to mean and they can make it or break it as they will.

The consequences, especially for children of divorce, are heartbreaking. Marriage does matter, folks. Children with divorced parents face:

  • A 10-15 percent higher rate of delinquency
  • A significantly higher likelihood of using drugs, alcohol, and tobacco
  • A 70 percent greater likelihood of expulsion or suspension from school
  • A doubling of the risk of psychological problems and higher risk of depression and other mental illnesses
  • Increased risk of physical harm from adult guardians
  • And higher rates of poverty

Remember, if you make something easy to break, people will break it. And when a marriage is torn apart, you, me, our children, and our very society is ripped to shreds.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.

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