Stephen Baskerville: five myths about no-fault divorce

Marriage and family
Marriage and family

From the Catholic News Agency.


Almost four decades after the “no-fault” divorce revolution began in California, misconceptions abound. Even the many books about divorce, including myriad self-help manuals, are full of inaccurate and misleading information. No public debate preceded the introduction of no-fault divorce laws in the 1970s, and no debate has taken place since.

Yet divorce-on-demand is exacting a devastating toll on our children, our social order, our economy, and even our constitutional rights. A recent study estimates the financial cost of divorce to taxpayers at $112 billion annually. Recent demands to legitimize same-sex marriage almost certainly follow from the divorce revolution, since gay activists readily acknowledge that they only desire to marry under the loosened terms that have resulted from the new divorce laws. Divorce also contributes to a dangerous increase in the power of the state over private life.

Here are the five myths about no-fault divorce:

  • No-fault divorce permitted divorce by mutual consent, thus making divorce less acrimonious
  • We cannot force people to remain married and should not try
  • No-fault divorce has led men to abandon their wives and children
  • When couples cannot agree or cooperate about matters like how the children should be raised, a judge must decide according to “the best interest of the child”
  • Divorce must be made easy because of domestic violence

And the details about number three:

Myth 3: No-fault divorce has led men to abandon their wives and children.

Fact: This does happen (wives more often than children), but it is greatly exaggerated. The vast majority of no-fault divorces — especially those involving children — are filed by wives. In fact, as Judy Parejko, author of Stolen Vows, has shown, the no-fault revolution was engineered largely by feminist lawyers, with the cooperation of the bar associations, as part of the sexual revolution. Overwhelmingly, it has served to separate large numbers of children from their fathers. Sometimes the genders are reversed, so that fathers take children from mothers. But either way, the main effect of no-fault is to make children weapons and pawns to gain power through the courts, not the “abandonment” of them by either parent.

Al Mohler wrote about the history of no-fault divorce a while back, and I think it’s worth reviewing why we have this lousy law.

The story behind America’s love affair with no-fault divorce is a sad and instructive tale. As Baskerville documents, no-fault divorce laws emerged in the United States during the 1970s and quickly spread across the nation. Even though only nine states had no-fault divorce laws in 1977, by 1995, every state had legalized no-fault divorce.

Behind all this is an ideological revolution driven by feminism and facilitated by this society’s embrace of autonomous individualism. Baskerville argues that divorce “became the most devastating weapon in the arsenal of feminism, because it creates millions of gender battles on the most personal level.” As far back as 1947, the National Association of Women Lawyers [NAWL] was pushing for what we now know as no-fault divorce. More recently, NAWL claims credit for the divorce revolution, describing it as “the greatest project NAWL has ever undertaken.”

The feminists and NAWL were not working alone, of course. Baskerville explains that the American Bar Association “persuaded the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws [NCCUSL] to produce the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act.” Eventually, this led to a revolution in law and convulsions in society at large. This legal revolution effectively drove a stake into the heart of marriage itself, with inevitable consequences. In effect, no-fault divorce has become the catalyst for one of the most destructive cultural shifts in human history. Now, no-fault divorce is championed by many governments in the name of human rights, and America’s divorce revolution is spreading around the world under the banner of “liberation.”

And note that Democrats oppose any effort to reform laws that make it easy to break up marriages:

A basic dishonesty on the question of divorce pervades our political culture. Baskerville cites Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm as referring to divorce as a couple’s “private decision.” Granholm’s comments came as she vetoed a bill intended to reform divorce law in her state. The danger and dishonesty of referring to divorce as a couple’s “private decision” is evident in the fact that this supposedly private decision imposes a reality, not only on the couple, but also on children and the larger society. Indeed, the “private decision” is really not made by a couple at all–but only by any spouse demanding a divorce.

So, no-fault was pushed by two groups: feminists and trial lawyers.

There’s a lot of talk these days about gay marriage and how it undermines marital norms and normalizes raising children without either their biological father or biological mother. But before there was gay marriage, there was no-fault divorce, which deprives children of their biological father. There is no provision for no-fault divorce in the Bible, so it seems to me that Christians should be against frivolous divorce just like we are against same-sex marriage.

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