Bryan Fischer
September 27, 2007
No-fault divorce, cohabitation harmful to families
By Bryan Fischer

I had the opportunity to speak earlier this week on behalf of the Idaho Values Alliance in presenting testimony to the Legislative Family Task Force chaired by Rep. Steven Thayne of Emmett.

Using statistics provided by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, I pointed out that the divorce in Idaho, while about what it was in 1970, is almost 40% higher than the national average. Also worrisome is the fact that the marriage rate in Idaho is now 60% lower than it was just a generation ago.

Since out-of-wedlock births in Idaho are at their highest totals in state history, the clear implication is that increasing numbers of Idahoans are cohabiting rather than entering into the solemn commitment of marriage. The effective "divorce" rate, then, is likely to be substantially higher even than the statistics indicate, since the break up of cohabiting couples does not show up in divorce summaries.

Cohabiting unfortunately has become increasingly acceptable, due to the sexual revolution and the rise of feminism, and there are now twelve times as many cohabiting couples in America as there were in 1960.

Research confirms that cohabitation is harmful for adults, the children in such homes, and for society in general. Cohabiting relationships are notoriously unstable, as cohabiting couples break up at a much higher rate than married couples, and cohabiting couples who eventually marry have a divorce rate that is 46% higher than couples who do not live together before marriage. Children pay a terrible price for the inherent instability associated with these environments.

The risk of domestic violence is twice as high for women in cohabiting relationships, who are nine times more likely to be killed by their partners than women in marital relationships.

Children in cohabiting environments are at a much greater risk of both physical and sexual abuse. In fact, the most unsafe environment for children is one in which the mother is living with someone other than the child's biological father, which is the case in the majority of cohabiting households.

Further, cohabiting couples report lower levels of income, sexual exclusivity and sexual satisfaction than married couples. The bottom line is that, if we care about both Idaho's adults and Idaho's children, we will support public policies that encourage marriage rather than cohabitation.

No-fault divorce, enacted in Idaho in 1970, has contributed to the instability of the marriage relationship by making it possible for one partner to unilaterally dissolve a marriage and break up a family, leaving spouses with no legal protection for the bond they have created.

As Maggie Gallagher observed, marriage "has become less binding than the average business deal. Marriage is one of the few contracts in which the law explicitly protects the defaulting party at the expense of his or her partner." No-fault divorce has contributed to a 25% increase in the rate of divorce all by itself, and has perversely contributed to an increase in cohabitation as adults have less and less confidence that a marriage commitment will receive significant legal protection.

Reversing the trend toward cohabitation will require a cultural awakening which reestablishes the view that personal happiness is a function of high-trust and lasting relationships.

But public policy changes are certainly a key element. It is probably time for Idaho legislators to revisit no-fault divorce, and perhaps replace it with a "mutual consent" plank, in which a "no-fault" divorce can only be granted if both parties agree to it, especially when minor children are still in the home.

Mutual consent divorce would give some leverage and bargaining power to the innocent spouse, and involves the least amount of government intrusion since the couple would work out custody and financial issues before coming into court.

It's worth noting that New York is the only state without no-fault divorce, and one main reason is that every time it has been proposed, feminist groups have fiercely opposed it. They recognize the exposure no-fault divorce creates for women, especially those who have left the workforce to devote their full energies to raising children. Women in such circumstances often experience a precipitous drop in their standard of living, and no-fault divorce leaves them sadly unprotected. We can, and should, do better for Idaho families.

© Bryan Fischer


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