Republicans have decided to start waging war on a ubiquitous and generally noncontroversial part of American life: no-fault divorce. Scott Keyes, writing for the Washington Post, reports on this alarming trend, one that has largely flown under the radar, of Republican-controlled state houses pushing for waiting periods, mandating marriage classes, or even eliminating no-fault divorce entirely. Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry have signed a pledge from Family Leader, a Christian-right group, denouncing “quickie divorce” and urging couples to endure a “cooling off period.”
The hope is that by making divorce a hassle, or forcing couples to really think about what divorce means, the government can encourage/make more couples give up on the idea and recommit themselves to marriage. This is, of course, not the government’s job. But also, by artificially elongating the divorce process, the state simply creates more time for all the petty, embittered bickering that divorce tends to cause, as anyone who’s actually ever been through a divorce, or known anyone else who has divorced, or is the child of divorce can tell you. A cooling-off period is just more time for adults to squabble over who gets the lamps and chairs and try to assign blame for the relationship’s demise. It’s the children who end up suffering, as marriage historian Stephanie Coontz argues, telling Keyes that mothers and fathers are “more likely to parent amicably if they haven’t been locked into a long separation process.”
Waiting periods and mandatory classes also provide an abusive partner more control. Needless to say, this means any push back to no-fault divorce will disproportionately hurt women. As Keyes writes:
No-fault divorce has been a success. A 2003 Stanford University study detailed the benefits in states that had legalized such divorces: Domestic violence dropped by a third in just 10 years, the number of husbands convicted of murdering their wives fell by 10 percent, and the number of women committing suicide declined between 11 and 19 percent. A recent report from Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress found that only 28 percent of divorced women said they wished they’d stayed married.
Yet the conservative push for “divorce reform” is finding sympathetic ears in statehouses, where Republican lawmakers have regularly introduced bills to restrict the practice. Their rationales range from the biblical (God bemoans divorce in Malachi 2:14-16) to the social (divorce reduces worker productivity) to the financial (two households are more expensive to maintain than one). Leading conservatives such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) have also argued that marriage is a solution to poverty.
No one is against marriage here. But putting up more obstacles to divorce won’t mend broken relationships. It only serves to make the process more painful and more punishing. Divorce is hard enough on all parties involved—shame on Republican legislators for trying to make it harder.