Photo: Kevin Dooley / flickr
Ronald Reagan enacted the nation’s first “no-fault” divorce law as governor of California in 1971. Later, he confessed to his son Michael Reagan it was the “greatest regret” of his political career. A generation later, the data confirms Reagan’s regret. By 1975 divorces in American had almost doubled as “no-fault divorce” went nationwide, and now we have the highest divorce rate in the civilized world.
Yet, despite that alarming data, whenever efforts to curtail America’s culture of divorce are mounted they often receive partisan sniping, like the one currently making its way through my state legislature that Business Insider wrote about Tuesday. If we have come to the point as a people that even saying it’s ideal for children to be raised in an environment with a loving mother and father, and we should do whatever we reasonably can to incentivise that environment as a society has become a partisan issue, then there really is no hope of each side of America’s political divide coming together for what’s best for their fellow man on anything.
Some say that divorce help women escape abuse, and there is some data to support that. For example, Business Insider cited a 2004 study from Stanford University which found no-fault divorce has helped reduce the rate of women victimized by domestic violence by making it easier for them to escape abusive husbands.
I know domestic violence. I lived through it. I witnessed it in my own home as a child on multiple occasions. I was a victim of it, as was my mother. I know how terrifying it is to not feel safe and secure in your own home but instead threatened by the very one who is supposed to be your protector. I know what it’s like to hear your mother being assaulted by a damaged man you simultaneously love as your own father, but at the same time are praying that God takes him away before he causes any more harm.
I know the carnage domestic violence inflicts, both in the now and in the future. See, that damaged abuser was also my masculine role model as a father. My dad who did this to us was acting upon the lack of unconditional love and abuse shown to him by his father while he was growing up. Yes, he is still responsible for his actions, but in some ways he’s just as much a victim as we were—imprisoned by his own unresolved demons foisted upon him by his damaged dad. The only way I managed to break that cycle before inflicting at least some of the same upon my family was through my faith in Jesus Christ, which transformed me into a new man and gave me a heavenly Father to take the place of my damaged earthly one.
Therefore, I don’t need the data on domestic violence. I have real life experience that tells me we should pursue any reasonable means of helping vulnerable women and children escape that abuse. However, using divorce as that means isn’t reasonable but a dangerous gambit.
While those women and their children may be escaping an abusive situation in the short-term, the long-term impact of divorce yields basically the same results. Children of divorced homes are five times more likely to live in poverty. Teens from divorced homes are much more likely to engage in illicit drug use, alcohol abuse, and premarital sex. Those children also tend to suffer academically and are less likely to graduate from high school, and they’re far more likely to be incarcerated as juveniles as well.
One psychological study that followed children of divorce from the 1970s well into their adult years found “these children continued to experience substantial expectations of failure, fear of loss, fear of change, and fear of conflict” 25 years later. A University of Utah study found that children of divorce often get divorced themselves. It showed if one spouse comes from divorce the couple is twice as likely to get divorced, and if both spouses do then the couple is three times as likely to get divorced. Have you ever typed “what are the financial pitfalls of divorce for women” into Google? Over 1.5 million results come up—and almost none of them are good.
In some cases divorce may be an escape hatch for women and children caught in the dangerous web of domestic violence, but it’s hardly a long-term deliverance. In fact, more of often than not the data shows you’re just trading one family tragedy for another.
Given this data, here’s what we should be able to reasonably conclude regardless of your worldview or political persuasion: a civilized society should do whatever it can to encourage a culture where neither domestic violence nor divorce are incentivized, easy, and lack accountability.
What exactly that looks like I don’t know. But what I do know is a society where I can access my email on a gravel road in a rural area is capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time. We’re smart enough to simultaneously deal with domestic violence without encouraging divorce. And if we’re not, then maybe we’re not as smart as we think we are.
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