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No-fault divorce


WASHINGTON -- By little baby steps, Americans are seeking to undo the Age of Aquarius. Michigan, Idaho, Georgia, Iowa and Pennsylvania are considering a repeal of their "no-fault divorce" laws.

Easy divorce was part of the '60s push for individual autonomy above all else. The unstated assumption was that marriage is an institution for adults, aimed at achieving adult happiness. If it isn't making both partners happy, why not permit divorce? It did provide some adults with more freedom, but it has cost children and society dearly.

Marriage is not just about adult happiness (though it does conduce to happiness -- including sexual satisfaction -- better than any other arrangement). Marriage is also the bedrock of stable families, strong communities and a healthy society.

For decades, we told ourselves that "it is better to come from a broken home than to live in one." But we now see that, for children, divorce is a calamity. Children of divorce are much more likely to drop out of school, to engage in premarital sex and to become pregnant than children of intact families.

Only 8.3 percent of children living with both parents exhibit significant emotional or behavioral problems, compared with 19.1 percent of those living with their mothers only and 23.6 percent of those living with their mothers and stepfathers. A study of 17,000 children, controlled for age, sex, race, maternal employment and family income, found that children living with a parent and a stepparent or a divorced mother only were 20 to 30 percent more likely to suffer an accident, 40 to 75 percent more likely to repeat a grade and 70 percent more likely to be expelled from school.

For many children of divorce, fathers simply fade away. Forty percent of children in fatherless homes report that they have not seen their fathers in at least a year. Of the other 60 percent, only one in six sees his father an average of once a week. Ten years after a divorce, more than two-thirds of children say they haven't seen their fathers for at least a year.

Two-way pain

All children of divorce suffer pain. Some of them visit pain on others. Seventy percent of children in state reform institutions grew up in single-parent or no-parent homes. "The one factor that most closely correlates with crime," according to former Attorney General William Barr, is not poverty, employment or education: "It's the absence of the father in the family."

So, here's a cheer for the states that are working to re-reform divorce law. Waiting periods for couples with children should be mandatory. Counseling for couples considering marriage is a good idea. And most of all, revive the concept of fault -- healthy marriages and a healthy society demand it.

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.

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