Recently, Texas State Rep. Matt Kruase filed a bill to eliminate no-fault divorce in the state in an effort to strengthen marriage and families.
The logic goes that more marriages will be saved since the law makes it more difficult, and costly, to obtain a divorce.
This isn’t the first time lawmakers have tried to do away with no-fault divorce. While it’s true that the passage of no-fault divorce laws contributed to the spike in the divorce rate that peaked in the 1980s, rolling back legislation and making divorce more cumbersome is the wrong antidote to the ailment hampering many families.
First, it is important to note that while divorce rates surged in the 1970s and early ’80s after no-fault divorce came into prominence, they have actually been steadily declining ever since. In 2016, the divorce rate in the U.S. hit a near 40-year low. In Texas, the rate of divorce fell to 2.7 divorces per 1,000 people in 2014 after peaking at 6.9 per 1,000 in 1981.
Making divorces more difficult to obtain even as the divorce rate continues to dip seems like a solution searching for a problem.
Then there is the issue of “strengthening families.” It is true that children of divorce face a higher risk of a number of negative outcomes such as dropping out of school or developing behavioral issues. But research also shows that the amount of parental conflict a child is exposed to has a larger effect than the actual event of the divorce itself.
Getting rid of no-fault divorce would consequently mean a reemergence of fault-based divorce, meaning the parties must prove wrongdoing to obtain a divorce. Marital fault could include adultery, neglect, abuse, or conviction of a felony. This inevitably leads to more arguments, more litigation, and more costly divorces.
After such an arduous process, it can be tough to let go of those hard feelings, which can carry over as the parties attempt to establish an effective co-parenting relationship. That’s not exactly “strengthening families.”
And what about couples who realize they’re better off going their separate ways but have no desire to blame each other? Shouldn’t we do more to support couples trying to transition through divorce amicably?
If lawmakers truly wanted to fortify families they would be better served ensuring both parents remain actively engaged in their children’s lives after divorce. According to federal statistics, children from fatherless homes account for 63% of youth suicides; 85% of youths in prison; 85% of children with behavior disorders; 71% of high school dropouts; and 90% of all homeless and runaway children.
Sadly, family courts by and large do a poor job of promoting shared parenting, which research shows is hands down the best post-divorce arrangement for children.
In 2014, the National Parents Organization released a Shared Parenting Report Card that graded each state on how well their child custody statutes promote shared parenting following divorce or separation. Texas fared fairly well, compared to most other states, by receiving a C. The national grade-point average was a 1.63 (on a 4.0 scale).
The shared-parenting movement is fortunately gaining traction across the country. In the last two years, more than 20 states have considered revising their child custody statutes and Missouri scored a key victory by passing a bill that makes shared parenting the presumption in the state. But it is still very difficult to pass meaningful legislation.
One would think more progress could be made if politicians focused on legislation truly benefiting families. The no-fault divorce bill proposed in Texas is simply the latest example of the problematic attitudes society holds about divorce.