A consequential anniversary just passed. It has been fifty years since the nation’s first no-fault divorce law was enacted. No-fault divorce laws make it so one partner can end a marriage simply by citing “irreconcilable differences.”
Governor Ronald Reagan signed California’s no-fault divorce bill in 1969. Forty-four states followed suit. Reagan later told his son Michael that this action, which unleashed a revolution, was his “greatest regret.”
The intent of no-fault divorce was to reduce the false accusations that characterized divorce proceedings. To fulfill the legal requirement that a judge find “fault” in one spouse, the parties would often concoct phony allegations against one another. Sometimes they’d even conspire to lie to a judge. Lawmakers thought it better to lower barriers to divorce than to allow what many called “institutionalized perjury” to continue.
The Daily Signal’s Daniel Davis wrote that among the devastating consequences of no-fault divorce is our “throwaway culture.” He observed that “50 years later, the perverse incentive to commit perjury seems utterly miniscule when compared with the wreckage that came from the divorce revolution.”
The divorce rate shot up. Roughly half of children born to married couples in the 1970’s saw their parents divorce, up from 11 percent of those born in the 50’s.
The rate is lower today; but marriage is also down.
The redefinition of marriage has been devastating. It began, Mr. Davis explains, not with same-sex marriage, but with no-fault divorce. “No-fault divorce,” he writes, “essentially made void the contract of marriage.” Either party could now break their marriage vows and
cite “irreconcilable differences” to get a divorce. Previously, a “transcendent vision of marriage” formed the basis of its legal recognition, placing marriage “beyond the reach of any human whim.”
There’s something in humans that still craves the transcendence and permanence Daniel Davis describes. There’s a solution, he says: “It’s what the Bible calls ‘covenant faithfulness.’”
We should restore marriage till death do us part.