By Michael T. Ross, M.D. & Michael J. McManus

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. Genesis 2:24

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”  Jesus in Matthew 19:4-5

Sponsored by: Defending Our Father’s House and Marriage Savers®

“The institution of marriage represents the very foundation of human social order. Everything of value sits on its base. Institutions, governments, religious fervor and the welfare of children are all dependent on its stability.  When it is weakened or undermined, the entire superstructure begins to wobble. That is exactly what has happened in the last thirty-five years…” Dr. James Dobson

Marriages Under Fire: Why We Must Win This Battle
Marriage has been primarily a faith-based institution since the Roman Empire first legalized Christianity in the fourth century.  Licensing and regulation more than just registration of marriage first become a major focus of government in the US early in the 20th century after formation of the Uniform Law Commission in 1892 by the American Bar Association.  While 43% of marriages were outdoors in 2010,[i] continuing a trend outside of houses of worship, 70% of married Americans surveyed in 2008 reported that they had married in religious ceremonies.[ii] That is a decline from 86% married by clergy in 2003 according to a Hart Poll.[iii]

No doubt, marriage needs to be protected as a rite of houses of worship and also as a precious resource for the community at large even though it is now licensed and regulated by civil authorities.  Clearly, the major hope for restoring, revitalizing and safeguarding marriage, and for preserving family, is for leaders of the faith community to join together in the service of God and man to restore the gift of marriage and to assure the preservation of family and children that it safeguards. According to Mike McManus, CEO and co-founder of Marriage Savers, more than 10,000 pastors and priests in 44 states and 230 cities, towns and counties have chosen to create Community Marriage Policies with remarkable success in reducing divorce and cohabitation rates while increasing marriages.

Seven Key Goals
In America, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was the first national religious organization to develop core marriage strengthening goals. Listed below is the fruit from that effort initiated in 2004 as part of their National Pastoral Initiative for Marriage:[iv]

1. Demonstrate pastoral concern for strengthening marriage at all its stages and in its many circumstances, particularly through listening to the experience of the faithful;

2. Offer authoritative teaching and pastoral guidance about marriage as a sacred gift of God and a human institution;

3. Connect authentic Christian belief and teaching with the major issues present in marriage today;

4. Promote more extensive and effective ministries to marriage, particularly in congregations.

5. Offer a Christ-centered witness to the meaning, value, and sanctity of marriage;

6. Join our efforts with those of others who are working in various social sectors to promote, preserve, and protect marriage;

7. Encourage laws, public policies, and other social strategies that will strengthen marriage in light of its contribution to the common good and its benefit to individuals, families, and communities.

These are goals supported by the broader Christian community.  Other faith groups may readily reconcile the marriage values of their religions with similar marriage strengthening goals. The Community Marriage Policies® outlined in this paper included the active leadership of Evangelical and Mainline Protestants as well as of Catholics. The goal is to reverse the trend of failing marriages, rising cohabitation rates, and declining marriages and the substantive harm experienced by children and the common good by strengthening the marital bond with the help of the faith community sharing leadership in this undertaking. By securing the integrity of marriage, we protect children from conception onward, strengthen families and the parent-child bond, bolster and improve the economy, reduce poverty, and heal many of the pathologies plaguing 21st century humanity.  This is truly in fidelity with the Abrahamic covenant and the promise of the new covenant [Jeremiah 31:31-34] offered by Jesus Christ.

This paper represents a collaboration of the following two organizations dedicated to safeguarding marriage, family and children and the faith institutions that serve them:

  1. Defending Our Father’s House, a 501(c) 3 non-profit Christian leadership and vision organization who’s mission is to establish the legal and institutional integrity of marriage and family within the United States.  Founder and President, Dr. Michael T. Ross, can be reached at [email protected] or 248 561 7272.
  2. Marriage Savers® a 501(c) 3 ministry whose goal is to help churches and communities cut their divorce and cohabitation rates and raise their marriage rate. They have helped the clergy of more than 200 cities adopt a Community Marriage Policy, an agreement across denominational lines, to make marriage such a priority in their churches that divorce rates fall. Marriage Savers® is based in the Washington, DC area.  Its address is 9311 Harrington Dr., Potomac, MD 20854.  Co-founder and President, Michael McManus can be reached at [email protected] or 301 469-5873. Also see Marriage Savers’ website,
The ideas presented here in this paper have been presented to the Catholic Archdioceses of Detroit and New York and to the Vatican as well as to other religious and academic leaders concerned with the collapse of marriage and family in the United States.
In current American society the institution of marriage is fading into obsolescence.  Young and old alike are turning to cohabitation, because marriage is considered highly unstable and risky.   Marriage also seems no longer necessary for raising children.  Today’s reality is that only about fifty-nine percent of children are born to married parents while 41% are born out-of-wedlock.  Only 44% of children reach adulthood living in the homes of both biological parents.

No one is more hurt by the breakup of families than innocent children.  In his book, Twice Adopted, Michael Reagan, the son of former President Ronald Reagan and first wife Jane Wyman, lived through his parents’ divorce and wrote about the experience:

“Divorce is where two adults take everything that matters to a child – the child’s home, family, security, and sense of being loved and protected – and they smash it all up, leave it in ruins on the floor, then walk out and leave the child to clean up the mess.”

Children of divorce get expelled from school or become pregnant as teenagers three times more often than those from intact homes, experience poverty 5 times more often, and incarceration 12 times more often.  They experience more mental illness and substance abuse, perform more poorly in school and suffer a substantial developmental disadvantage that hurts them in all sectors of their lives.  For too many, this effect lasts a lifetime.  Children of divorce live five years less than those of intact families.[v]

While 90 percent of America’s top jobs require a college degree, 60 percent of children in urban schools don’t graduate from high school.  In Detroit, only 25% of children graduate.  For African American males, this drops to 20%.  Surprisingly, it is still worse for Detroit’s white male youths—only 17 percent graduate from high school.

The afflictions of children today become the disorder and suffering of tomorrow and everyone participates. Adults from divorced families cohabitate and divorce more.  They also marry and practice faith less. Because they lack the solid formation witnessed by Mom and Dad as they develop through childhood and transition to adult life and responsibility, they tend to lack vital life skills, such as citizenship behavior, interpersonal communication, and relationship skills, clear and mature discernment, and long range vision and planning abilities.  The ramifications for the common good are protean and profound.

Broken families contribute disproportionately to the criminal population. The United States has the largest criminal population per capita in the world,7.2 million behind bars, on probation or on parole, five and a half times greater than China, with the world’s second largest number of prisoners.

In Michigan one out of every twenty-seven citizens are in the criminal justice system, worse than the national ratio of one out of thirty one.  In some Detroit neighborhoods, this ratio is one out of seven.

The United States has the highest divorce rate in the free world, two to six times that of Canada and Europe, according to Andrew Cherlin in his 2009 book, The Marriage-Go-Round.[vi] The percentage of marriages ending in divorce within five years of marriage was 23% for the U.S. vs. 3% in Italy, 4% in Spain, 5% in Belgium, 8% in France and Great Britain, 9% in Australia and Norway, 10% in Canada and Poland and 11% in Austria and Sweden.

1. Marriage is plummeting:  The marriage rate has plunged 54% since 1970.  If the same percentage of couples were marrying now as in 1970, there would be over a million more marriages annually – 3.3 million marriages instead of 2.2 million.  “Since 1972, the number of marriages celebrated in a Catholic Church has fallen 60 percent,” said Sheila Garcia of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.[vii] In Michigan, the overall marriage rate for all population groups, has plummeted 35% since 1990, 14.4% in the past five years, and 18% in metropolitan Detroit.

2. Divorce remains sky high: About half of all new marriages end in divorce.  There have been 46 million divorces since 1970 involving 92 million spouses and hurting 44 million children. That represents 136 million parents and children or about 43.4 % of the US population. During this same time period, Catholic annulments soared from 338 in 1968 to 50,000 in 2002.[viii]  Considering that divorce also hurts the grandparents, more and more as they age, and aunts, uncles and cousins of those directly affected, it becomes clear what a social holocaust divorce represents for our entire nation. Adults from divorced families cohabitate and divorce more. They marry and practice a faith less.

3. Cohabitation is replacing marriage: The number of unmarried couples living together has soared 18-fold from 430,000 in 1960 to 7.6 million today.  Many couples living together say they are in a “trial marriage.”  That myth is dispelled in Living Together: Myths, Risks & Answers by Michael and Harriet McManus. Nine out of ten are actually in a “trial divorce.” The only question is whether they will break up before or after the wedding.  Although two-thirds of marriages are of cohabiting couples, only 20% or 1.5 million of 7.6 million cohabiting couples marry. So, four of five suffer premarital divorce, often involving minor children. And a 2003 study estimated that those who marry after cohabiting are 61% more likely to divorce than those who remained apart.[ix]  A more recent study in 2012, said it was less severe but significant: “Looking at 20 years duration, women who had never cohabited with their first husband had a higher probably of marriage survival (57%) compared with women who had cohabited with their first spouse before marriage, regardless of whether they were engaged when they began living together (46% and 45% respectively). The result: 90% of couples who begin their relationship with cohabitation will break up, either before the wedding or afterward in divorce.

4. Unwed births soar: Out-of wedlock births jumped from 5% of births in 1960, to 10.7% in 1970 to 41% in 200810, or from 224,000 to 1.7 million children from 1960-201008. Out-of-wedlock births climbed approximately 1% annually through 2003, though the rate of growth has slowed in recent years. For women aged 30 and below, 53% of their babies are born out of wedlock. Cohabiting couples are as likely to have a child under 18 as married couples (41% vs. 46%).

5. Children grow up without both biologic parents:  This is the new norm.

Nationally, only 46% of teenagers live in homes with married biological parents.  Married couples with children account for fewer than one in four households – down from one half of 1960 homes according to a March 2007 Washington Post article citing the Brookings Institute.  This is the lowest ever recorded by the census.

According to the Michigan Family Forum, less than 30% of Detroit children under 18 live with both biological parents.  In Michigan’s Benton Harbor, this figure is only 17.9 percent.  Children growing up in single parent homes are highly likely to be poor, and to be at high risk in nearly every measure of well being and performance from mental and physical health, school performance, sociopathy, employability and likelihood of conceiving out of wedlock children and never marrying.

6. The law supports the fall of marriage: Though the collapse of marriage profoundly hurts the common good of the society at large generating huge costs, including breakdown in morality and civil order, our lawmakers, the legal community, government, and society’s key systems favor and reward divorce, cohabitation, single parenting, out of wedlock births, and unstable, new age families over intact traditional marriage and family.  Where is the logic and common sense in this chosen social order and reality here in America?  We are the wealthiest, most privileged nation—land of the free, home of the brave—where information, truth and choice could not be more plentiful and teaching and awareness of right and wrong more available.

Dr. David Popenoe, co-founder of The National Marriage Project and emeritus professor of sociology at Rutgers University, eloquently states what is at stake for marriage in America:

If the family trends of recent decades are extended into the future, the result will be not only growing uncertainty within marriage, but the gradual elimination of marriage in favor of sexual liaisons oriented to adult expressiveness and self-fulfillment.  The problem with this scenario is that children will be harmed, adults will probably be no happier and the social order would suffer”.

7. The faith community remains silent on the crisis of marriage. Marriage is God’s first institution.  It is the heart of the common good and the hope of the faithful.  Yet, few clergy substantively address the threats of cohabitation and divorce to marriage, children and the long-term viability of their houses of worship. Nor do clergy or faith organizations have a plan to strengthen marriage in their faith community let alone the public square.  Al Mohler, Jr, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has said:

“Without clear leadership from the pulpit, the issue of divorce has simply fallen through the cracks of church life, and many congregations effectively ignore divorce in their midst, as well as all the tragedy and brokenness that follow.” [x]

However, to their credit, the Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest Protestant church, issued a paper in 2010, “The Scandal of Southern Baptist Divorce,” It urged the denomination to confront “the spiritual wreckage left in our Southern Baptist churches by our own divorce rates and our silence about the same.” The report acknowledged that the states “where Southern Baptists predominate in number often have higher divorce rates” than other states. The report urged pastors to “proclaim the word of God on the permanence of marriage and provide enrichment opportunities,” and to help those in troubled marriages to seek “reconciliation.”

Impacts of Cohabitation on Marriage Decline
Couples mistakenly turn to cohabitation rather than marriage as a perceived safeguard against broken relationships while not understanding that cohabitation can lead to relationship failure.  Few seem to realize that only about a tenth of cohabitating relationships result in long term marriages.

In their book, Living Together: Myths, Risks & Answers,[xi]   Mike and Harriet McManus, Co-Founders of Marriage Savers, describe “premarital divorce” as cohabitating relationships that fail before the couple ever gets married.  A premarital divorce is just as painful as a real divorce.  The McManus’ argue that failed cohabitation relationships lie behind the 54% drop in the marriage rate since 1970.   The number of never-married Americans has nearly tripled since 1970, rising from 21 million in that year to 63 million in 2010. Tens of millions of people have been diverted from getting married at all by living together outside of wedlock.

What about those who marry after living together? As noted earlier, couples who cohabit are more likely to divorce than those who remained separate until the wedding. [xii]  That’s why only about 10 percent of couples who begin their relationships in cohabitation, are able to build a strong and lasting marriage.  The rest fail causing great harm in the process.  Jesus predicted these results in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 7:24-27).

The soaring growth of cohabitation has diverted tens of millions of Americans from getting married in the first place. The increase in cohabitation has resulted in an increase of never married adults, and consequently, in a plunging marriage rate.

There were 21 million never-married Americans in 1970, but 58 million in 2008. That’s why the marriage rate has been chopped in half.

Another consequence of rising cohabitation is the huge 8-fold jump in the number of babies born out-of wedlock, rising from 5% of births in 1960 to 41% in 2008.

Marriage Decline Contributes to Relationship Instability
The increase in cohabitation, decline in marriage, increase in divorces, and increase of unwed births all contribute to instability in relationships of all kinds from personal ones to those in business, health care, the military and the public sector.

Higher rates of domestic violence owe their beginnings to the institutional collapse of marriage in our society. Domestic violence rates are greatest among those who cohabitate. In 2007, the Congressional Quarterly cited Detroit as the most dangerous large city in the United States. A Wall Street Journal report July 14, 2009, shows that the five most dangerous cities have the lowest number of married couples as a percentage of total households.  For Detroit, this was 91,000 of 288,000 households.

The report observes that the three safest cities in the United States, San Jose, CA, Honolulu, and El Paso are all distinguished by having the most married couples as a percentage of total households.  What is remarkable is that El Paso, the third safest city in the Congressional Quarterly, rated by Men’s Health as the second “happiest” city in America, has a poverty rate more than twice the national average—27%!

El Paso has much looser gun laws than Detroit, but a “far greater number of married couples as a percentage of total households: 48% versus Detroit’s 24%”, according to the Wall Street Journal article.[xiii] Why? One reason is that El Paso clergy signed a “Community Marriage Policy” that has reduced divorce rates by more than 70% according to an independent study by the Institute for Research and Evaluation.

This would suggest that efforts focused on promoting marriage, making it a safer institution for spouses and their children, and discouraging cohabitation will reduce domestic violence and strengthen relationships across our culture.  US Department of Justice data on intimate partner violence from 1993-2005 provide compelling evidence for this view (See Figure 5 page 11).[xiv]  For intact marriages in 2005, the domestic violence rate for married women is 0.9%  – less than 1 in 1,000! The risk of a separated woman is more than 50 times greater!

Impact of No Fault Divorce On Marriage Decline
In four out of five divorces, one spouse wants to remain married, but can do nothing to stop the divorce due to the current law allowing unilateral divorce on demand commonly known as No Fault Divorce.[xv]  This truly violates each spouse since it denies an opportunity for the aligned unity of each spouse, which formed the marriage, to resolve the issues respectfully for each spouse in fidelity with the understandings undergirding the contractual promises at the moment of marriage.  In the instance of a dispute in a religious marriage, such as a Catholic one in which the Church is understood to represent God as the third party in the contract (Mt 18 & 19), No Fault Divorce denies any voice or justice for two of the three parties to the contract. This is a fundamental violation of the nation’s Constitution and the key values it prints on all its coinage and currency, “In God We Trust, Liberty, and E Pluribus Unum.”

Nonfatal intimate partner victimization rate per 1,000 females by marital status, 1993-2005*







Never married



































































Figure 5. Married with lowest domestic violence rates in all years: 0.9% in 2005



*Note: Because the NCVS reflects a respondent’s marital status at the time of the incident, it is not possible to determine whether a person was separated or divorced at the time of the interview or whether the separation or divorce followed the violence. Information about nonfatal intimate partner victimization of women who were widowed is provided as average annual estimates because the small number of cases is insufficient for reliable estimates


While working as a family court mediator, Judy Parejko learned about No-Fault Divorce.   She spent ten years researching the origin, intent and implementation of this law and is the author of Stolen Vows: The Illusion of No-Fault Divorce and the Rise of the American Divorce Industry.[xvi] Ms. Parejko’s research discovered that unilateral divorce on demand (No Fault Divorce) was conceived and implemented by the American Bar Association (ABA) between 1967 and 1970 through its drafting arm, the National Conference of Commissioners of Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL or Uniform Law Commission  There was neither scientific or economic impact study nor consultations with the faith community or experts in the medical and mental health professions and other academic disciplines integrated into the process and procedures of updating and improving the law in alignment with the Constitution and the service of children, spouses, marriage stakeholders,  and the common good. The model law created by the Uniform Law Commission is the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act (UMDA), the legal template for No Fault Divorce in America.

Like previous divorce actions, No Fault Divorce is still a lawsuit, which means that one party is invoking the state’s police powers against the other party. The main difference now is that the person filing for divorce no longer has to provide a reason for why they’re doing it. This type of lawsuit is unique; it’s the only type of legal action devoid of any ‘claim’ (complaint), and if the party being sued doesn’t know the complaint, then there’s no possibility of a defense.

In 1970, the Uniform Law Commission gathered for their annual meeting just outside of St. Louis. At this meeting, two new ‘model’ laws had been drafted and debated with the purpose of creating more uniformity in state laws. One of these laws was called the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act (UMDA) and the other was the Uniform Abortion Act. The UMDA model was approved and soon sent to the various state judiciary committees where it became know as No Fault Divorce.  The filing of Roe vs. Wade in US District Court in Texas in 1970 deterred further efforts to implement a uniform abortion law.

Before No Fault Divorce laws there was a Conciliation Court Movement focused on marital reconciliation. It began in 1939 when California enacted its Children’s Court of Conciliation Law in order to:

 ” … protect the rights of children and to promote the public welfare by preserving and promoting family life and the institution of matrimony, and to provide means for the reconciliation of spouses and the amicable settlement of domestic and family controversies.”

By 1970, Conciliation Courts were operating in Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon and Wisconsin, using a growing body of knowledge and techniques to help restore family life.

After passing the UMDA in 1970, the law commissioners returned to their home states and promoted the new law as a way to strengthen marriages and families and to make marital dissolution less acrimonious in those cases in which married life was no longer tenable. Most states adopted this model law within the next ten years. By 1985, just fifteen years later, every state but New York had implemented No Fault Divorce (and New York adopted it in 2009). The nation’s jurisprudence systems fixated on the new monolithic, ‘one size fits all’ approach to marital and family stress: unilateral, uncontestable, state enforced, no-fault divorce on demandThe Conciliation courts disappeared overnight along with any official policy favoring reconciliation of troubled marriages over the nation’s monolithic support for divorce and unwed parenting. New York finally joined the other states in adopting No Fault Divorce in 2010.

As a result of No Fault Divorce, civil family law now drives seventy percent of all circuit court activity. Terminating marriages more quickly has become the relentless mission of lawyers (Christian and Catholic alike), judges and civil courts, city and county governments, and an industry of mental health and financial service professionals.  In all fifty states, judges grant every divorce lawsuit without exception as a ministerial function unless the plaintiff withdraws the filing. The marriage conciliation movement has been completely abandoned and reconciliation is not a consideration let alone a value or planning priority for courts or government at any level.

Michigan’s No Fault Divorce law, introduced into the Michigan legislature in March of 1971 by Oak Park family law attorney Sen. Daniel Cooper, was passed by both houses that June and signed into law by Governor Milliken in July 1971.  As with the work of the ABA’s national law commissioners, lawmakers opted not to seek scientific or economic impact studies or to consult with the faith community, with medical and mental health experts or with stakeholders in the community to help inform decision-making.

In less than four months, 125 years of marriage safeguards vanished with consequences that would prove devastating for citizens, especially children, and for Michigan’s economy and government.  Since passage of Michigan’s No-Fault Divorce law, there have been no systemic efforts to offer treatment to couples with marital difficulties or to reconcile those who seek to end their marriages.  Couples are left to their own devices.  Some seek help from mental health professionals but rarely find it.  One large study of couples in covenant marriages in Louisiana, Covenant Marriage by Steven Nock, et al, reported: “couples who receive marital counseling (during marriage) are substantially more likely to divorce than couples who forego this option.  All forms of marital counseling are associated with a two- to three-fold increase in the likelihood of divorce.[xvii]

True Hope for Marriage and the Common Good
As discouraging as this history of No Fault Divorce suggests the future of marriage may be, it points to a solid path for reversing course to a bright future of truly rewarding relationships between married men and women, their children and extended families.  In October 2008 Marriage Savers published How to Cut America’s Divorce Rate in Half: A Strategy Every State Should Adopt, a 101-page book by Mike McManus with a Foreword by Gov. Mike Huckabee. It proposed a reform called “Mutual Consent,” in which couples with minor children would have to get the written consent of their spouse before a divorce is granted unless the spouse can prove major fault (adultery, physical abuse, etc.), the exact solution that lay Catholic leaders in Michigan had persuaded their legislators to introduce in February 2008 as a bill to modify No Fault divorce.

Both secular legal experts and religious leaders agree that this strategy “could reduce divorce by 50%,” says Divorce Attorney John Crouch, Founder of Americans for Divorce Reform. As Evansville IN Catholic Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger, wrote in an endorsement, “By giving the spouse who wants to save the marriage an equal voice with an unhappy mate, many marriages could be saved, perhaps saving most of them.” If divorce rates were cut in half, each year 500,000 children would not experience a parental divorce, 5 million in a decade.

American Family Association (AFA) Chairman, Don Wildmon, called this this Mutual Consent proposal “revolutionary and absolutely unprecedented. It would save millions of marriages and stabilize American families, giving kids a much better start in life.  I can’t think of any reform that could make America a better place.”

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins wrote, “The first step in strengthening the family is reforming no-fault divorce. Mike McManus’ latest work provides a strategy to reform this broken system.”  The Family Research Council (FRC) also distributed Marriage Savers’ roadmap to state Family Policy Councils.

Lessons Learned From Legislative Efforts to Modify No Fault Divorce in Michigan
In February 2008, former Michigan State Representative, Fulton Sheen, grandnephew of venerated Archbishop Fulton Sheen, at the urging of Dr. Ross and the Family Rights Coalition of Michigan, introduced Michigan House Bill 5761, a bill to modify No Fault Divorce in families with minor children.  House Bill 5761 would require written Mutual Consent of both spouses as a requirement for marital dissolution.  Without Mutual Consent, a spouse would have to file a lawsuit demonstrating by clear and convincing evidence that one of six grounds for marital dissolution, specified in House Bill 5761, had been met.

Michigan House Bill 5761 languished in the House Judiciary Committee failing to be considered for lack of community involvement and institutional support from the faith community and other stakeholders. This experience proved instructive. It became clear that unilateral divorce on demand had become firmly institutionalized by the economic infrastructure the federal government had installed to sustain it, particularly the welfare reform measures of the 1990’s.  Prior to the reform, taxpayer supported welfare payments supported families with ‘absent parents’ in which mothers conceived out of wedlock, divorced their spouses, or were abandoned by the other parent.  Welfare reform made taxpayer costs seem to disappear by reimbursing states with social security funds for state enforced collections of entitlement revenue directly from the working wages of ‘noncustodial parents’—not as a state tax but as child support collected just like a tax by the state who then transferred it to unwed and divorcing parents just like welfare payments before the reform.

Welfare Reform in the 1990’s, technically called The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA), the fruit of collaboration by US House Speaker Newt Gingrich,  Senator Rick Santorum,  and President Clinton, offered a new pre-emptive welfare reform model that substituted child support for all unwed and divorced families with minor children for welfare payments to indigent single parents. PRWORA removed means-testing and extended eligibility to all families with minor children that had a non-custodial parent. Instead of continuing soaring tax-paid welfare payments to the 5 million indigent single parent families (just under 15 million AFDC recipients), the Social Security Welfare structure extended its benefits to nearly 16 million more recipients, middle and upper class single parent families created by easy divorce and non-wed birthing.  Because payments were collected directly from non-custodial parents and labeled child support collections instead of tax collections, this new welfare scheme created the false reality that taxpayer costs had been dramatically reduced.  In truth, this was a masterful shell game and fraud upon the American people that markedly deepened institutional, political and economic corruption.  Individual leaders of all faith traditions could join their agnostic and atheist counterparts and profess deep fidelity with their religious beliefs while supporting child support as a fundamental, moral imperative equivalent to those promulgated by their religion.

Social Security Title IV-D reimbursed the states for enforcement measures needed to collect the payments from ‘noncustodial parents,’ largely fathers whom the moms never married or from whom they became divorced.  This served at least to triple the number of broken families receiving Social Security welfare entitlements by providing an economic incentive to non-indigent, middle and upper income parents to collect their child support entitlement by conceiving without marrying or by divorcing their child’s other parent.

In Michigan, government swelled massively and one million families, a third of the population and forty percent of all children, came under the state’s judicial branch and Friend of the Court. It created a lucrative, welfare-based industry for lawyers, mental health practitioners, social workers, financial and real estate professionals, childcare workers and many other businesses and guaranteed employment for public employees of all kinds.

This very same incentive dynamic in 1960’s welfare programming destroyed the social integrity of the indigent family and fueled the explosive growth of indigent welfare entitlements as well as the pandemic pathologies that followed—crime, violence, mental illness, child neglect, abuse, failed education, trauma, disease and economic failure. With child support institutionalized, its righteous and moral uprightness as an entitlement obligation replaced society’s low regard and indignation about indigent welfare. Restoring marriage safeguards and prioritizing reconciliation and two-parent rearing of children would prove near impossible.

No Fault Divorce automatically grants divorce in every case to whoever asks for it regardless of the facts. Typically, this unjustly hurts responsible spouses who prefer to remain married and keep the family together.  Whereas contract law protects the automobile lease company from the harms of the leasee breaching the contract, the spouse forced into divorce has no protection from the imposed losses of marriage, spouse, family life, relationships with children, extended family and friendships, financial integrity, emotional trauma and much more. Divorce in America is the only lawsuit in which the state always favors the one suing. Thanks to welfare reform, in most cases our government and institutions provide modern welfare incentives and other benefits for doing so.

What is essential to getting a law passed that will restore common sense and justice for children, spouses, and families, and economic and moral sense for the common good across the marital landscape, is for top faith leaders to openly demand and work together for effective reformIt will not happen without such leadership.

Finally Fixing Broken Family Law

With this understanding, Ron Grignol, retired naval officer and aerospace engineer for the defense department, and Dr. Michael Ross, an emergency physician with inner city experience, designed Responsible Spouse Guidelines [xviii] to update and improve the model template of the forty year old No Fault Divorce statute.  The Guidelines preserve the features that inspired the original design, and still safeguard marriage, spouses, children and the common good.  This modification would restore the integrity of marriage offering both protections and incentives for couples to marry and stay married.  For couples in serious marital trouble, the enhanced model would favor consideration of reconciliation by each spouse so that the couple would be much more receptive to proffered help from their faith community or from relationship professionals who work with couples and families.

Guidelines apply when a couple does not agree about the divorce or its settlement.  Any couple can negotiate their own settlement terms, which the court will accept. The Guidelines presume that the spouse who prefers to remain married when sued for divorce is the Responsible Spouse.  This designation assures the spouse-parent of 50-67 % of child custody, a minimum of 60% of the property settlement, child support and, if existing eligibility criteria allow, spousal support too.  The suing parent is assured of unilateral, No Fault Divorce on demand and one-third to one-half child custody.

This model offers either spouse the option to reverse the Responsible Spouse designation and the predictable Guidelines by asserting and proving to the court by clear and convincing evidence, one of five classical faults or that a false allegation was intentionally made. This model assures that both spouses, Mom and Dad, have a voice in the outcome and the best opportunity to reconcile or work out the best solutions for their children.  It offers a solid and appealing alternative for cohabiting couples since it safeguards each of the two as individuals as well as their relationship, and any offspring from their union.

Since this approach affords the marriage contract the very same safeguards that the US Constitution guarantees all contracts, it restores religious civil liberties and economic protections for all citizens. It assures the same bountiful, potential fruit for the global common good of marriage as small businesses, larger corporations, governments, organizations and international commerce now enjoy in their mundane activities.

Imagine if the top leaders of the faith communities, the ones who signed the Manhattan Declaration ( in support of marriage, life and religious liberty along with a half million other Americans, joined with their faith-based legal advocacy groups such as the Alliance Defense Fund, Liberty Counsel, Thomas More Law Society, and the American Catholic Lawyers Association, to name a few, and with other marriage, child, and family advocates, the business community, common good stakeholders, and academicians, and appealed to the ABA’s Uniform Law Commission, to draft, and facilitate implementation across the states, of a model update of the No Fault Divorce paradigm that incorporates Responsible Spouse Guidelines.  The Uniform Law Commission authored and facilitated universal implementation of the No Fault Divorce template from the mid-1960-s until passage of No Fault Divorce in New York State in 2010, nearly a half century of profoundly harmful legal activity against children, spouses, houses of worship, and the common good.

The original UMDA template did not take very long to draft and only a year to approve.  Governor Ronald Reagan signed its first prototype into law September 5, 1969 one year before the Uniform Law Commission formally approved their uniform law model.  Approached in this manner, law change like this could sweep the nation with remarkable alacrity if individual American leaders will just do their part.

A One Year Period of Reflection and Reconciliation
One reason America’s divorce rate is triple that of Britain or France (23% of U.S. couples divorce in five years. Vs. only 8% of British or French) is that if a divorce is contested in England, the divorce is not granted for five years, and six ydears in France.  That gallows a lot of time for reconciliation. By contrast, 25 states including Michigan have a ZERO waiting period for contested divorces.  “These are Hot Head States, which foster an unnecessarily high diovrce rate,” says Mike McManus, President of Marriage Savers.

By contrast, there have been three states which allowed a two year delay if the divorce was contested: Illiois, Pennsylvania and Maryland (until 2012).  In 2009, these states had a divorce rate that was nearly half that of the worst 10 Hot Head States: Nevada, Arkansas, Wyoming, Idaho, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, and West Virginia.

In 2011 Mike McManus joined with others (Chris Gersten and Beverly Willett) to create a Coalition for Divorce Reform.  (See It proposed a Parental Divorce Reduction Act (PDRA) which would make several changes in divorce law:

  1. Before a divorce is filed by a husband or wife with children, both would have to take a course on the impact of divorce on children.  Unhappy parents tend to minimize the impact of divorce on children. This six hour course, which can be taken on line, would prompt many parents to work at heir marriage rather than divorcing.
  2. After a divorce is filed, there would be a One Year Period of Reflection and Reconciliation.  This delay would encourage reconciliation.
  3. During the year, the couple would be able to remain under the same roof, rather than having to move apart, as required by states with a waiting period.  This would foster reconciliation, rather than dating new people
  4. During the year, the couple would be asked to take classes to improve their communication and conflict resolution skills.

 A similar bill was introduced in Minnesota in 2012 called the Second Chances

Act.  Its primary advocate was Dr. William Doherty, a professor at the University of Minnesota.  He won the support of the Family Bar, to the surprise of many.  The bill did pass one House committee, but did not pass either house.  PDRA was not passed anywhere.  Second Chances was the same as PDRA, except that the classes during the year’s delay were optional, not required.

Answers From the Faith Community
Al Mohler, Jr, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, sees the solution arising from the faith community:

Where are our pastors on the question of divorce? Why are so many pulpits silent on this issue?… Divorce is the greatest threat to the family in our times. We cannot expect this society to take us seriously as defenders of marriage if we are not the enemies of divorce.”

This perspective focuses all the hope for authentic change on leadership provided by men and women who submit themselves to the common sense of God and share their inspiration and wisdom with fellow stakeholders in the public square, no matter whether they believe there is no God, don’t know, don’t care, or have another way of explaining how the world got to be how it is.

Marriage Savers® has worked with the clergy of 229 cities and counties, over 10,000 pastors, priests and deacons, to adopt a Community Marriage Policy® or, as some clergy call it, a Community Marriage Covenant®. The goal is to assure life long marriages and strong, stable families throughout a given community.  Whether applied in a small town, or across a large metropolitan area, a Community Marriage Policy® can be expected to have far reaching salutary effects on people living lives of faith at home and bringing their gifts of marriage and family values into the larger community to heal the social problems plaguing our communities and strengthen the values and behaviors that undergird our economy.  While the inspiration for this ministry arose in the bedrock of Christian beliefs and practices, the Divine Plan, like sunshine and rain, moonlight and starlight, Abraham and Sarah, serves all humanity — Jew, Christian, and Muslim, Hindu, Seikh and Buddhist, atheist and agnostic alike.

Clergy join together across different religions, denominations and racial lines in a city, county or metro area and sign a covenant to make healthy marriages a priority in their houses of worship. Specifically, in Community Marriage Policies® (CMPs), religious leaders pledge to train Mentor couples to help other couples at every stage of the marital life cycle from discernment and engagement, to marriage, child birth, and the dark night of marital discord and breakup: Preparation, Enrichment of existing marriages, Reconstruction of marriages in crisis, Reconciliation of separated couples, and help for Step-familes to be successful. This approach is detailed in Part II of this paper.

A remarkable recent development in the public square went virtually unnoticed.  Approximately 150 faith leaders representing Catholic, Orthodox and Evangelical Christians  convened in Manhattan in 2009 and issued a “Manhattan Declaration” to express their concern that “the lives of the unborn, the disabled and the elderly are severely threatened, that the institution of marriage, already buffeted by promiscuity, infidelity and divorce, is in jeapordy of being redefined to accommodate fashionable ideologies, that freedom of religion and the rights of conscience are gravely jeopardized by those who would use the instruments of coercion to compel persons of faith to compromise their deepest convictions.” Given the current Obama Mandate, their action was especially prescient. They distilled their pooled angst into three values worthy of agreement: the sanctity of life, religious liberty, and the dignity of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. At an historic Washington DC press conference November 20, 2009, these religious leaders released their Manhattan Declaration ( The Manhattan Declaration concluded with these two eloquent sentences: “We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.”,

Swiftly, 525,000 signatures gathered on the document from adherents of its core triad of values, including the signatures of major Christian religious leaders across America, such as Al Moehler, Richard Land and His Eminence Cardinal Timothy Dolan. The document declares timeless Judeo-Christian values of decency founded in natural law. One could imagine any adherent of truth embracing these three declarations, in some way, whether Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, or Sikh—whether an American religious leader or just a believer in the US Constitution. This public declaration of a triad of core values all related to marriage and a list of more than one half-million signatures and contact information provides an excellent human infrastructure for taking action as one body of faith.

One major result is that leading Evangelicals have joined the Catholic Bishops in their fight against the Obama Administration’s demand that religious organizations provide contraceptives, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs to their employees at no cost.  Dr. Richard Land, President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, asserted trenchantly, “This is a debate about coercion, not Catholics; conscience, not contraceptives; and freedom, not fertility. This is about principles, not `pelvic politics.’”

Occuring simultaneously with the Manhattan Declaration, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released their Pastoral Letter, Marriage, Love and Life in the Divine Plan, the culmination of five years of work, which began in 2004 as part of their National Pastoral Initiative on Marriage.  The Pastoral Letter articulates the full Catholic understanding of the nature and vital importance of God’s first institution and provides a foundation for a renewal of Christian catechesis and for establishing institutional integrity firmly founded on the Divine Plan and the Word of God.  For American Catholics, they see this development as a sign of great hope that their Church will be able to join the community of faith across all religions and work together to build a civilization of love.  Love, after all, defines what marriage is truly all about.

To safeguard children and assure them of the opportunity to become the best adult versions of themselves, to strengthen marriage and family, reduce divorce, cohabitation, and out-of-wedlock births and reap the bountiful harvest of love shared, promises kept, and suffering overcome, we must join together as one united, human community functioning as one body despite our many differences, diverse peoples and protean perspectives.   Part II will show how Community Marriage Policies  can help the members of a vibrant faith community to join together taking an active role to:

  1. Lower the rates of divorce and cohabitation neighborhood by neighborhood.
  2. Increase the marriage rate community by community.
  3. Safeguard children in their relationships with Mom & Dad, siblings, grandparents and all of their families and in reaping all the developmental opportunities of childhood.
  4. Lower the instances of domestic violence, child abuse and neglect by encouraging marriage as the safest human institution and the best social welfare agency mankind has ever known

Dr. Michael T. Ross is an emergency physician and healthcare communications consultant whose marriage law reform proposals have been considered by the Michigan Legislature. Dr. Ross is founder and president of Defending Our Fathers House, a 501c3 leadership group whose mission is to establish the legal and institutional integrity of marriage and family. Mike McManus is President of Marriage Savers, which has worked with 10,000+ clergy in 229 cities to adopt Community Marriage Policies that have reduced divorce rates an average of 17.5%, cut cohabitation by a third, and increased marriage rates.  He also writes a syndicated column, “Ethics & Religion.”

[ii] Barry A Kostnin, and Ariela Keysar, American Religious Identification Survey 2008, s/summary Report March 2009, Trinity College, Hartford, CT


[iii] Peter D. Hart Research Associates, July 2003.


[iv] National Pastoral Initiative for Marriage, US Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2004


[v] Howard S. Friedman, Ph.D. and Leslie R. Martin, Ph.D., The Longevity Project, Hudson Street Press, New York, 2011.


[vi] Andrew J. Cherlin, The Marriage-Go-Round, 2009, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, see table on p. 206.


[vii] Nancy Frazier O’Brien, Catholic News Service, Feb. 29, 2012.


[viii] Kenneth Jones, Interview by Fred Haehnel, Una Voce America Director, June 2003 in Una Voce America, cited in Free


[ix] Claire M Kamp Dush, Catherine Cohan and Paul R. Amato, “The Relationship Between Cohabitation and Marital Quality and Stability: Change Across Cohorts?” Journal of Marriage and Family 65 (August 2003): 503-549.


 [x] Al Mohler, Jr,  “No-Fault Divorce–The End of Marriage?” Al Mohler Commentary, June 9. 2006,


[xi] Mike and Harriet McManus, Living Together: Myths, Risks & Answers, 2008, Howard Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, New York, London, Toronto, Sydney.


[xii] Dush, Cohan and Amato.


[xiii] Lewis I. Dale, “Family Structure Helps Explain Difference in Violence,” Wall Street Journal, July 14, 2009, p.12


[xiv]  Bureau of Justice Statistics,  “Nonfatal intimate partner victimization rate for females by marital status, 1993-2005, ” National Crime Victimization Survey, author: Shannon M. Catalano, PhD, BJS Statistician, December 12, 2007,


[xv] Frank Furstenberg and Andrew Cherlin, Divided Families Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 1991, p. 22.


[xvi]  Parejko, Judy, “No-Fault Divorce: America’s Divorce Mill What is no-fault divorce?” Canticle Magazine, May/June 2009


[xvii] Steven L. Nock, Laura Sanchez and James D. Wright, Covenant Marriage: The Movement to Reclaim Tradition in America, Ruters University Press, New Brunswick, NJ, 2008.


[xviii] Ron Grignol and Michael T. Ross, “Broken Family Law: Guidelines and Fixes,” FCS Quarterly, Summer, 2011, pages 39-43