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A War on Divorce?

At a time when the state is bleeding cash and resources and facing record unemployment, seems at least one Michigan lawmaker is still finding the time to fan the flames of the pointless "culture wars" that political hacks turn to when they lack real answers to our real problems. State senator Michelle McManus, a Republican from Lake Leelanau, Mich., who's also running for Secretary of State, has introduced legislation designed to force more people to stay in broken marriages by eliminating Michigan's "no fault" divorce statute, which makes it easier for spouses to part.

Since 1972 Michigan's “no fault” divorce law has required only that one spouse say “there has been a breakdown of the marriage relationship to the extent that the objects of matrimony have been destroyed and there remains no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved.”Under the McManus bill those seeking divorce would be required to allege specific problems such as adultery, physical abuse, imprisonment, physical incompetence at time of marriage, or that a spouse had sex with an animal or dead human body.

The person accused of wrongdoing in the marriage would then have a chance to agree to the charges or deny them and a court would make a determination as to their validity.

Veronica LaDuke, spokeswoman for McManus, said that the Senator decided to introduce the bill because she was asked to do so by Mike McManus (no relation), president of the DC-area based Christian ministry called group Marriage Savers.


This is annoying on so many fronts. First off, yet again, we're forced to witness the scary implications of what happens when religious fundamentalists attempt to impose their brand of morality on the rest of us, via the law. (And here you thought it was just Detroit's stripper-scolding, fat cat "bishop-ocracy" that wants to play American Taliban.)

Secondly, even a cursory understanding of why the law was enacted in the first place tells you why it's a sensible idea. Before "no fault" divorce, people were often forced to air all of their dirty laundry in divorce court, generating even more hostility and animosity in the proceedings. And when there wasn't enough dirty laundry, people made stuff up, spinning fictional horror stories about abuse and infidelity just so they could get on with their lives.

And even when they couldn't get the divorce, people split anyway, creating all sorts of thorny entanglements around issues of child support and the division of property.

Finally, the state decided that it made more sense to just let consenting adults move on, without all the court-appointed drama.

But now Michelle and Mike McManus and their "pro-family" buddies are trying to drag us back 38 years in one fell swoop. Their reasons are, for the most part, the standard conservative cliches about any law or social program they hate, arguing that "no fault" divorces breed "irresponsibility." But they do manage to get at least a little more inventive this time around, contending that divorce is also an economic problem that has thrust Michigan into decline.

Though most people blame the sad state of Michigan's economy on the decline of the auto industry, McManus claims that the prevalence of divorce in Michigan is a major factor.

“Only married people can create new businesses. It takes one couple living under one roof to generate enough income to set off in business on your own.”

Plus, he said, because divorced women and their children are more likely to be poor, divorce results in increased need for Medicaid and housing subsidies.

And we all know how much many of our far-right Christian countrymen just love the idea of the government giving poor people anything.

Seriously, though, I'm not suggesting that marriage isn't important and that it doesn't take real work. As a married man, I know that when that work yields the dividends of a lasting bond, it can be beautiful for all involved. But the reality is that far too many marriages don't work, for any number of reasons. And in most instances, they aren't going to work just because some ministers who yield undue sway over narrow-minded politicians want that reality to be otherwise.

Moreover, at such a dire time for our state, I find it disheartening that the "culture warriors" are worming out of the woodwork again with these silly attempts to top each other -- and wedge voters -- with legislative kookiness. First it's this state rep Paul Scott, another GOP Secretary of State candidate (what is it with the SOS race anyway?), who has decided to make attacks on transgendered Michiganians central to his publicity machine. And now it's Michelle McManus and her bill kowtowing to these so-called "pro-family" mullahs.

Despite the solid track record that "culture warriors" have when it comes to dividing voters, I think these sort of efforts are likely too obvious and too nutty to work by themselves. But with the governor's race still taking shape, they signal a fundamental shift in the rhetoric we may be hearing in coming months. Sadly, at a time when we need leadership on both sides of the aisles willing to wage substantive battles on our behalf, it looks like we are destined to keep getting people who'd still rather take half-hearted stabs at windmills.

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  • 1

    Food for thought: The bastion of redstate religious conservatism known as 'New York State' still doesn't have a no-fault divorce law.

  • 2

    Some fairly decent trolling of the right here, but it could use a few more sound-bite ready lines for them to quote in counter-point articles. Anyway, keep up the good work, hope they fall for the bait!

  • 3

    Actually, there allowing one party in a marriage the power to unilaterally up and leave can be quite devastating to the left spouse, both financially and otherwise. I have friends and relatives who have divorced both ways and it's never a good time, but no-fault divorce can actually hurt the weaker party, who is usually, but not always, the woman—who are almost always worse off after a divorce anyway. So in some ways this law can be quite progressive.

  • 4

    damn, I meant "Actually, *allowing one party in a marriage, etc...

  • 5

    It seems that Dawsey has forgotten some of the basic "freedoms" that this country affords not only the "press" but also the other citizens. The freedom of THEIR speech as well as the freedom to express their opinions and wishes in regard to the laws of their communities and states. This is simply a proposal that is being debated at this time, it is NOT a conspiracy of any religious group to "impose" its will upon anyone else. However, unless those that disagree with the proposal speak their opinion to those that are making the decisions, aka: your political representatives, then the will of others WILL be imposed. I wonder if Mr. Dasey has done more than complain and toss around names for that which he clearly disagrees. Mr. Dawsey, have YOU contacted your state representatives? If you're THAT serious about your allegations, then be a responsible adult and take action while encouraging others to do so as well, and use the time you've spent complaining more constructively.

  • 6

    Yikes. This is very scary. Just as you so aptly describe, the destructiveness of the fault based divorce is unbelieveable - in terms of finances to the family, stress, and what it does to those important family relationships. Sure, it's tough when one spouse is caught off guard, but dragging each other through the fire does not make it any better. It makes it worse. And what about the spouses who are in agreement to divorce.... who want to divorce and maintain a good relationship and be effective co-parents? Come on... this is crazy!

  • 7

    The biggest point this story is missing is Tiger Woods. Hello the biggest news right now. He is not GOING to have a divorce, which I think is a good thing. I mean if u think about it over a 5 year period 16 girls, that's less ab 3 girls/yr. That's an average of 1 every 4 months. 4 months is 24 weeks.. sounds like when tiger takes a tour HE TAKES A TOUR, but the only reason Tiger hasn't suffered as much as he could have is because he employed a tactic, which worked out for him, check out the story

  • 8

    For once, Mr. Dawsey, I AGREE WITH YOU! (Shocking.) Not the slanderous remarks about conservatives, but about it being silly to make divorce more difficult.

    I can tell you from personal experience, It's PLENTY difficult.

    If "fault" must be assigned, abused women (and men) will be far less likely to pursue divorce, and they'll stay in destructive marriages. Why on earth do we want to preserve bad/abusive/destructive marriages where people are in real danger?? Increasing the level of difficulty gives yet another lever to an abusive partner who does not want to be called abusive in legal documents. It ratchets up the fear and anxiety for the abused spouse. So much better (and still not a bit easy) for the abused partner to be able to file for divorce without having to stipulate abuse or anything else as the reason.

    It would have stopped me. And, honestly, I might not still be around if my marriage had lasted another year.

  • 9

    I think some information pointing out the abuses that have resulted from the no-fault law would help the readers greatly. Stats are clear that this law has allowed many men to abandon their responsibility for their families in pursuit of their own personal freedom and gain.

    As well, this law has opened the way for fathers who do not desire divorce to lose daily life with their children.

    I have those close to me who have experienced the difficulty of the "dirty laundary airing." That doesn't mean we swing over to the no-fault extreme.

    "When religious fundamentalists . . . impose their brand of morality"? Way to cut down sensible discussion with that well-worn scathe. Forbid the fact there is such a thing as "morality" . . . or even "responsibility."

    • 9.1

      I appreciate your point of view and must respectfully disagree. "Morality" is a slippery concept--although one I believe in stongly. And making people remain married does not do anything to promote morality. Immorality takes many shapes, and a legal union has little impact on whether people are moral or not. However, dissolving unhealthy unions can save lives when abused partners (and children) can be unfettered and move to safety.

  • 10

    It takes two to make a marriage and one to make a divorce... As it should be. Why would anyone want to live with someone that doesn't want to live with them? Especially if they still love the person.

  • 11

    Under McManus' proposed amendment to the statute it becomes ironic that a the "defendant" in a divorce proceeding would have to defend against false accusations even though they may be in agreement to the divorce. That is ludicris.

  • 12

    Fortunately, although I'm in conservative Richmond, VA, we still have the option of no-fault divorce. I'm partial, but any attempt at further restricting people's freedom (especially to be happy) is an attempt at the government to control how we live. Let's focus on our economy and not regulating divorces.

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