The Nation's Pulse

No-Fault Harms Children

Our friend Terry McAuliffe seems totally indifferent to the harm divorce laws cause children.

By 9.17.13

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Ever the wild one, Terry McAuliffe, Virginia gubernatorial candidate, recently released an ad slamming his opponent’s divorce reform bill introduced in 2008, calling it extreme and misrepresenting what the bill actually did.

In 2008, Virginia state senator Ken Cuccinelli introduced Senate Bill 725, “A BILL to amend and reenact § 2091 of the Code of Virginia, relating to grounds for divorce; minor children.”

Evidently Mr. McAuliffe thinks the idea of trying to protect children from going through a divorce because only one of their parents wants out is extreme. Then-senator Cuccinelli’s bill attempted to protect children from Virginia’s no-fault divorce law by adding a provision that says a divorce will not automatically be granted after a couple with children has “lived separate and apart without any cohabitation and without interruption for one year” if one of the parents does not want a divorce.

Cuccinelli’s bill would have allowed, for marriages entered into after July 1, 2008 that include children, the husband or the wife who did not wish a divorce to file an objection to the granting of the divorce. It would have once again made divorce a bilateral decision instead of the power to divorce being unilaterally in the hands of one spouse. Under no-fault divorce laws the person who does not want a divorce has no choice if their spouse does want one; their marriage will be declared ended by a judge.

McAuliffe’s ad portrayed a woman who wanted out of her marriage as being trapped in it because Cuccinelli’s bill would have prevented her from leaving if her husband objected. Virginia’s current Code allows for divorce in cases of adultery, in cases where a spouse goes to jail for a felony and for cases of abuse, abandonment, or desertion.

The purpose of bills like Cuccinelli’s is to protect children from divorce. By slowing down the process it is hoped that couples with children will work out their differences and seek to strengthen their marriages instead of filing for divorce without a chance for reconciliation. The bill also protects innocent parties in the marriage from having a divorce forced upon them by government fiat.

No-fault divorce proponents present these laws as a panacea; however, divorce has many negative consequences for all parties concerned, especially children. Consider these negative outcomes:

• The U.S. has the highest divorce rate in the industrial world. In the last 40 years, approximately 40 million children have become the casualties of broken homes.

• Children are positively affected — emotionally, sexually, mentally, and physically — when their parents are married as opposed to single or cohabiting. Children of divorce carry “residual trauma” into adulthood and have double the risk of psychological problems later in life (depression, drug/alcohol abuse, suicidal thoughts).

• Children of divorce often linger longer in the adolescent stage before embracing adulthood; they tend to be less socially competent, and tend to become more worried, underachieving, and self-deprecating adults.

• Parents’ divorce is a leading cause of teen involvement in risky behavior. Teens who live with their married parents are less likely to experiment with drugs, alcohol, or tobacco than other teens.

• Children with two married parents have better health and a longer life expectancy than other children. One study found children of divorce had life expectancy reduced by five years.

• About 63 percent of all youth who commit suicide come from fatherless homes. Of youth that are incarcerated, 80 percent come from homes where fathers are absent, as do 90 percent of homeless and runaway children and 71 percent of high school dropouts.

• Children who do not live with their own two parents are at a much higher risk of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.

• Children who grow up without two parents are more likely to drop out of school and earn less in their lifetimes than those who are raised with both parents. They are six times as apt to live in poverty and are much more likely to be incarcerated.

• On average, each divorce involves one child, which makes that family eligible for welfare, Medicaid, food stamps, and many other subsidies. Each divorce costs taxpayers $20,000, or $20 billion a year with a million divorces annually.

It’s odd that no-fault divorce laws do not take into account the well-being of children. When no-fault divorce cases arise and children are involved, child custody hearings and battles can be epic in deciding which spouse gets the children when but rarely do they take into account what the children want. What if the children do not want their parents to get divorced? Do they get a vote? Social science data show that the best environment for children to grow up in is living with their married mother and father. With all the blame to go around, the children are certainly not at fault for their parent’s marital problems — they are the true party of no-fault but under no-fault laws they suffer the most.

While Mr. McAuliffe tries to portray Mr. Cuccinelli’s bill as “extreme” and damaging to women, he seems to ignore the children hurt by divorce. How many times do we hear a policy is “for the children,” but when a policy can be spun to promote supposed “women’s rights” as McAuliffe’s ad seems to do, the children are on their own until they are of voting age, then let the pandering begin.

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About the Author

Janice Shaw Crouse, is the author of Children at Risk and Marriage Matters.