Pundits cite many reasons for Michigan’s morbid economy. Most center around the business climate—for example, anti-business tax policy, omnipotent and inflexible state bureaucracy, high union labor costs, and decision-making overly invested in the automotive sector.
Michigan is fighting for its survival. Unemployment is over 10% with automotive sales’ declines in the mid 30% range. Foreclosures and bankruptcies top record levels. Government revenues spiral south faster than most bureaucracies can react. Legions of people and businesses clamor for public assistance, but the state does not have money to pay bills let alone stem the tide. Still, those manning the levers of bureaucracy appear hard pressed to scale back.
Nobody acknowledges the enormous ‘elephant’ in the middle of the room–an elephant that has trampled our humanity and caused many of the looming problems. These include failed justice and enforcement systems and burgeoning prisons that assure human failure, a tax system that can’t spend fast enough to keep pace with broken lives, a work force unprepared to meet economic demands, and a command-controlled society that has no entrepreneurial spirit.
The ‘elephant’ is the epidemic of family brokenness born of 40 years of ill-conceived law and government policy. Family destruction manufactures problems that go far deeper than the broken economy into a morbid malaise, a culture of death.
Last April on tax day, the Institute for American Values (www.americanvalues.org) issued it’s report “The Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing. Michigan’s cost for family fragmentation is minimally estimated at $1.562 billion annually. While this is a staggering number, the Family Rights Coalition knows the truth is many times greater.
In 2006, the Michigan Friend of the Court (FOC) managed over one million open cases—families consisting of two parents living apart and their children. Based on census data, the average Michigan family with minors has 1.8 children. That totals 3.8 million people of our 10 million residents. Each of those broken families struggle with expenses that intact families could not afford—attorney and court fees ($200-350/hour), mental health fees, consultants fees, and costs for supporting two homes and for duplicating children’s belongings such as clothes, sporting gear, etc. Parents who fall behind face imprisonment and other sanctions.
The two parent intact family home constitutes society’s most effective economic building block. Its inherent human wealth and structural advantages yield substantive dividends far into the future.
Current family law policies assure family breakdown like knives severing limbs. Unilateral, uncontestable divorce on demand (i.e. no-fault divorce) mandates that judges abrogate every marriage contract before the court regardless of circumstances or children’s needs. It places the full police powers of government at the disposal of the parent demanding divorce. By design and by force of state police powers, the parent seeking to keep the family together is denied a defense and silenced. This is the same reasoning justifying unilateral, unrestricted abortion on demand. One has to wonder how our economy would be affected if a party to a business contract could breech it on demand without legal consequences and with rewards.
With every divorce, a nuclear device detonates that keeps blowing up the only life a child knows. The family court never considers healing the marital relationship an option. It exists only to terminate the marriage and family relationships swiftly and efficiently and to assure that everyone, especially the attorneys, get their cut of the family assets.
History shows that no society has ever survived dissolution of its family culture. When families disintegrate, the threads that bind us together and empower us to accomplish more than we could individually, unravel producing systemic disorder, injustice and loss of freedom.
Can Michigan survive such brokenness? The evidence is right here in our own backyard. Last year, Forbes magazine rated Detroit as the worst place to live. Our community consistently rates at the bottom of survey after survey. Detroit’s family break down began in the 1960’s, when welfare policies promoted the removal of fathers from indigent families. Several years later, the American Bar Association with its drafting arm, the Uniform Law Commission, gutted marriage safeguards by promulgating mandatory,unilateral divorce on demand.
Further intrusion of social security welfare statutes into middle and upper class family life during the 1970’s and 1980’s accelerated the pace of family destruction by creating incentives for marriage dissolution and out-of-wedlock birth. These policies created an urban gehenna. With over 70% of its births outside marriage and an 80% high school drop out rate for black males (83% for white males), unemployment at 20.5% (three times the national average), and costly systemic pathologies from crime, violence, disease, illiteracy and mental illness, Detroit is all but dead.
Here in Michigan, we hold the tools to put our state back on the right track. Michigan and its Motown flagship can experience a new vibrancy we have not seen for some time. This is why we dedicate this issue to safeguarding and strengthening marriage and family. We can see the solutions if we care to open our eyes.
One of them modifies no-fault (unilateral) divorce with a mutual consent component that requires couples with minor children to work out the details of their marriage dissolution in advance of filing for divorce. This approach creates a natural obstacle to family dissolution. It creates conditions that will improve communication skills at the very least and that foster the possible reconciliation of the couple and family. This will require legislative action.
Another solution that makes tremendous sense is the community marriage policy developed by Marriage Savers (see www.marriagesavers.org) This is a grassroots community effort joining the faith community with local leaders in creating institutional safeguards to protect the marriages and families in individual congregations and communities. These policies incorporate a five step program to prepare engaged couples, to enrich existing marriages and help troubled and at risk ones.
The time for complacency is over. To bring back Michigan we have to bring back marriage and family. There’s just no other way.
Jay A. Fedewa, PE, an automotive engineer and president of Fedewa & Associates, problem solves broken systems and designs solutions everyday. A father of two, he is very active as a leader in his community and his church. Executive director of The Family Rights Coalition of Michigan, he plans to apply his system engineering skills to the court system and state government to improve the quality of family life and the performance of Michigan’s economy.