Social & Domestic Issues

A Modest Proposal to Reduce Unnecessary Divorce

Former Georgia Chief Justice Leah Sears (on the short list for Obama appointments to the Supreme Court) and family relations professor William Doherty have teamed up to produce what they call, without irony, a modest proposal to reduce “unnecessary divorce”: the Second Chances Act.
The Second Chances Act is a brilliant piece of work by two of the nation’s leading pro-marriage liberals. (Full disclosure: The authors kindly give me far more credit than I am due by including me in a list of people to be thanked for “contributions,” which in my case consisted of attending one meeting in which an early draft of the report and the legislation were presented.)
The Second Chances Act proposes new model legislation that includes a one-year waiting period for divorce, along with a requirement that parents of minor children considering divorce take a short online divorced parenting education course, which would include information on reconciliation. Spouses could trigger the one-year waiting period without actually filing for divorce by sending their mates a formal letter of notice. These requirements would be waived in cases of domestic violence.
The genesis of the Second Chances Act was Hennepin County, Minn., Judge Bruce Peterson’s observation that at least some of the people he was seeing in his family court looked as if they needed a “rest stop” on the “divorce superhighway.”
“When Judge Peterson looked at his own court system, widely acknowledged as a progressive one, he saw attempts to meet nearly every need of divorcing couples — legal and financial assistance, protection orders, parenting education, and more — except for reconciliation,” Sears and Doherty write.
The assumption of the entire legal system is that by the time a person files for divorce the marriage is already dead. Amazingly, no one really had ever asked how many people filing for divorce might be interested in reconciliation.
So Doherty teamed up with colleagues to do some groundbreaking original research testing that assumption.
What they found shocked the family law community: “New research shows that about 40 percent of U.S. couples already well into the divorce process say that one or both of them are interested in the possibility of reconciliation.” Further, in about 10 percent of divorces, both the husband and the wife are interested in reconciliation (quite likely unbeknownst to either of them).
“This finding is stunning,” Sears and Doherty point out. “The research findings presented in this report clearly suggest that today’s very high U.S. divorce rate is not only costly to taxpayers, it is not only harmful to children, it is also, to a degree that we are only now understanding, preventable.”
How can unnecessary divorce be prevented?
The waiting period is one idea.
According to Doherty and Sears, a 2009 study by Thorsten Kneip and Gerrit Bauer, “Did Unilateral Divorce Laws Raise the Divorce Rates in Western Europe?” found that 80 percent of the increase in divorce rates between 1970 and 1990 could be attributed to the eliminating or shortening of waiting periods.
The scientific case for the impact of waiting periods in reducing divorce is not bulletproof, these scholars acknowledge.
But Doherty and Sears suggest a one-year waiting period combined with a parenting education class that puts interested couples in touch with reconciliation resources should have an even bigger impact than waiting periods alone in reducing unnecessary divorce.
Put it this way: If a divorce can be prevented by a one-year waiting period, and giving both spouses information on reconciliation, then it certainly is an unnecessary divorce.
Why should government strive to eliminate unnecessary divorce?
Because, to state it simply, unnecessary divorce hurts children.
Doherty and Sears sum up the social science evidence: “We now know that divorce on average has dramatic effects on children’s lives, across the life course.”
Rolling family fragmentation back to 1980 levels, they write, would result in “half a million fewer children suspended from school, about 200,000 fewer children engaging in delinquency or violence, a quarter of a million fewer children receiving therapy, about a quarter of a million fewer smokers, about 80,000 fewer children thinking about suicide, and about 28,000 fewer children attempting suicide.”
28,000 fewer children attempting suicide?
Now that’s a second chance worth a second look.

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  • Tomas de Torquemada

    “Unnecessary Divorce”?  An oxymoron akin to “homosexual marriage”.  Divorce is invariably a social ill and a moral wrong.  And, of course, always forbidden by the Church.  What part of “What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder” is not understood?

  • hildy

    Leah Sears and William Doherty are quite a team alright.  They teamed up to decide the Court was a better judge than the participants who want out.  So what the Sears and Doherty teamed up to do was put a Full stop to due process.  Why anyone would label a full stop to civil rights “brilliant” is scary stupid.  The only problem with divorce, is the attorneys who rake people over the coals with unnecessary high fees, and of course a Legion of cottage industries.  Clearly the writer has no background in divorce reality.  Perhaps she could read the “Custody Evaluators” or “Therapists” section of and get just one clue.  Educating herself to divorce reality will help end nonsense columns such as this one.

  • komzguy

    If it said “church of whatever” at the top of the page you would have a point but it says “state of whatever”.  There in lies the problem.  Marriage used to be a contract with God performed in the church, now it is a three way contract with the state and the spouses. 

  • DrMaxHathaway

    Divorce should not involve lawyers. Remove the lawyers and the mental health parasites with their fake evaluations of parents (etc.) and you will protect parents and children from the Lawyer-Therapist-Induced “TRAUMA” of divorce.

    Having therapists provide information on reconciliation would conflict with all of their Marxists-feminist training (i.e., 95 of what they are taught in therapist education programs) and official ideology, which holds that men are the source of all evil, marriage is the vehicle for oppressing women (whereas homosexuality is the preferred relationship), and privileged white men are the oppressors of everyone else, especially children.

    For this to be effective, then entire professions of psychology, social work, family therapy and counseling would have to be stripped of their Marxist-feminist ideological roots, moronic “post-modern” epistemologies and re-tooled. That is simply not going to happen.

    The best thing that can be done with psychotherapists is starve them out of business.

    Lobby your state congressmen to require more restrictions on the Court’s use of these fake evaluators and the use of their fake evaluation methods in family law as well as torts. Expose the false science that these psychotherapy-parasites inflict on their victims.

    File class action lawsuits to get them out of the legal system where they provide the courts with ready-made, supposedly “expert” opinions based on junk science manipulated to achieve Marxist-Feminist goals of mass social de-stabilization through the disruption of the family, advocacy of social and sexual deviance, and their assault on the family.

    Psychotherapy MUST be recognized for what it is: another front in the Cloward-Piven strategic war against western civilization.

    In the next revolution, we not only need to kill all the lawyers, but also the psychotherapists.

    They really are what they say they are: psycho-the-rapists.

    Take them at their word.


    Dr. Hathaway,

    Your comment is absolutely accurate. I personally wouldn’t have repeated the “Marxist-Feminist” reference so many times, but that’s just a matter of style. The content was perfect.

    As I was reading this piece I kept trying to imagine the typical social-worker encouraging couples to give marriage another chance, and I just couldn’t do it.

    I could imagine them disparaging any and all traditional institutions, blaming religion for wrecking their bliss and suggesting that they explore alternative sexuality. But giving marriage a chance? Don’t think so.


    That is indeed the root of the problem. The institution of marriage has been sullied by the government.

    Look at all the lawyer-assisting elements the government has introduced:

    Support payments
    Commonlaw arrangements
    Naturalization by marriage
    Legal separation
    The marriage tax
    Gay marriage

    And describing it as a three-way contract is actually too positive. At least with a contract the parties have some say in the terms. In a marriage only the government has any say over the terms of the marriage. You could point to prenuptual agreements, but they don’t have any impact on the actual marriage, just the aftermath of a divorce.

  • Martin Hale

    Sorry, but if we’re really interested in eliminating unnecessary divorce, then wouldn’t it be a lot more practical to go back to only granting divorce for cause?  I clearly recall a lot of people raising the point that no-fault divorce laws were going to create a lot of unnecessary divorces while eroding the value of marriage substantially.

    As a couple of other people have pointed out – the beneficiaries of no-fault have been the divorce lawyers and all the other professionals who’ve descended from on high to feast on the corpses of dead marriages by providing “services”.

  • captnjoe

    “The Second Chances Act is a brilliant piece of work by two of the nation’s leading pro-marriage liberals.”

    Apparently Rick, you have very poor reading comprehension, or should I have just repeated your line back to you: “Mind boggling idiocy”.


    If people are truly concerned about correcting the high rate of divorce in America all that needs to be done is to repeal “NO FAULT DIVORCE” which was started back in 1969 by California Assemblyman James Hayes!

    There is no need to correct bad law with more bad law! Just repeal the bad laws and get the hell out of peoples lives!


  • Ksmith_Tx

    Great. A European Socialist solution for a personal moral problem. I cannot believe this author is endorsing and praising a law that will attempt to enforce a government “re-education program” on couples that the government decides are in the process of an unnecessary divorce.  Another step down the slippery slope to socialism.  The government is truly an evil entity  —  Divorce is bad, however, killing innocent babies through abortion is not only good, it is a legal right. 


  • Boyd Lemon

    43 years ago California reduced its waiting time from one year to six months.  It had no affect on the divorce rate.

    Boyd Lemon-Author of “Digging Deep: A Writer Uncovers
    His Marriages,” a memoir of the author’s journey to understand his role in
    the destruction of his three marriages, helpful for anyone to deal with issues
    in their own relationships. 
    Information, excerpts and reviews:

  • Jeff Okkonen

    I would agree that No Fault Divorce aggravated an existing problem.  But prior to No Fault….attorneys manufactured various “faults” in order to pressure the faithful spouse into agreeing to a divorce settlement.  A protracted and costly warfare is onerous enough, but when you have to watch the traumatic effect  on your young children it can become unbearable.  The divorce industry is dirty through and through.  I hold attorneys, judges and all the ancillary camp followers in this industry in the lowest contempt.


    There were problems but “No Fault Divorce” was not the answer!