Divorce: No-Fault Doesn’t Mean No Harm

Divorce: No-Fault Doesn’t Mean No Harm

Divorce harms children. Period.

2024 | Week of April 1 | Radio Transcript #1560

Divorce has become so prevalent that we often forget how harmful it is to children.

Statistically, children with divorced parents suffer in all areas of life. They are more likely to develop behavioral problems, struggle academically, commit crimes, live in poverty, abuse drugs and alcohol, experience illness, and suffer from psychological distress.

Demographic Research released a study in the last couple of years that shows that divorce has an even greater impact on children than parental death when it comes to their education. The study included data from 17 countries, emphasizing the virtually universal harm divorce has on children. It’s not unreasonable to assume that divorce has a similar impact on areas of a child’s life beyond education.

Unfortunately, state laws are not helping the millions of children who will suffer from broken families. No-fault divorce laws reflect the ever-growing belief that all that matters is what the adults want—what they think they need to be “happy”—regardless of what is best for the children.

Wisconsin in particular has the worst combination of divorce laws in the country with our no-fault, no-contest approach to divorce. Since the late 70s, Wisconsin couples have been able to divorce without presenting allegations or evidence of fault, and the spouse who is not asking for the divorce has no grounds on which to contest.

Each year, many of the divorces in our state include minor children, thousands of them directly impacted—as truly innocent victims—while their parents, at least many of them, pursue their own desires.

Related to this is a bill Republican state legislators have now introduced four times. This session, it was Assembly Bill 291. The proposal would have completely eliminated Wisconsin’s six-month waiting period after a divorce before a remarriage.

In the last three sessions, ideas were offered to amend the bill. The first proposal was to not completely eliminate the waiting period and instead reduce it to three months or some other more reasonable amount of time. The second idea was to keep a serious waiting period for couples with minor children.

The Assembly rejected both amendment ideas and passed the bill as originally proposed. In this current session, the bill died in the Senate, as it has in the previous sessions.

Marriage counselors and therapists have repeatedly told us the waiting period after a divorce before a remarriage should be longer, not shorter, because of the stress that happens during a divorce proceeding. Changing this waiting period is all about adult desires trumping what is best for children.

On a practical level, we know that every divorce brings both a social and financial cost to the entire society.  Divorce undermines the institution of marriage and weakens the family unit. A weak family unit results in a tumultuous society that rests on a crumbling foundation.

After a divorce with minor children, the custodial parent’s income typically decreases significantly. Children of divorce are nearly five times more likely to live in poverty than are those with married parents. These situations result in public hard and soft costs as many of these single-parent homes end up taking considerable welfare; and of course, the negative effects of divorce on children have profound societal implications.

In order to protect children and honor the institution of marriage, Wisconsin needs to reform its divorce laws in a way that will better protect children. If it means bringing fault back into the process, then we should strongly consider that abuse, abandonment, or adultery should be back on the table as faults. We certainly don’t need to eliminate completely the waiting period after a divorce before a remarriage—in particular for couples with minor children. That would just make matters worse.

When children are involved, adult desires must be secondary to what is truly in the best interest of the children. The bottom line is we need a return to the belief that marriage, as designed by God, is a lifelong, monogamous relationship between one man and one woman, generally not intended to be broken except by the death of one of the spouses. As always God’s way is the best way—and in this instance, it’s especially the best way for children.

This is Julaine Appling for Wisconsin Family Council reminding you that God, through the Prophet Hosea, said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”

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