How To Cut the Federal Deficit by $75 Billion

Editor’s Note: Michael McManus is the author of “Ethics & Religion,” a syndicated opinion column that appears in many US publications. Mike is also the founder and president of “Marriage Savers,” a non-profit organization that prepares couples for marriage. This article is reprinted by permission. Though the federal deficit approaches $500 billion and Congress authorized a $700 billion bailout package, both John McCain and Barack Obama have only proposed tax cuts and spending programs that will vastly widen the deficit. How about a strategy that could cut the deficit by $75 billion? More importantly, it could prevent a half million children from seeing their parents divorce each year – five million fewer in a decade. Divorce is a major reason why 20 million children live in a home without their father. They are three times as likely to be expelled from school, to become pregnant or to commit suicide – than children with married parents. They are five times as likely to grow up in poverty and two to 12 times as likely to be incarcerated. Two-thirds of Americans were married in 1970, but less than half are married today. Though a divorce is opposed in four out of five cases by one spouse, it is always granted, due to No Fault Divorce which is the law in 49 states. Therefore, the law should change, requiring couples with children under 18 to obtain written mutual consent for the dissolution of their marriage, if there are no proven allegations of fault such as adultery or abuse. This reform would replace No Fault Divorce in cases involving children with Mutual Consent Divorce, that would give an equal voice to the parent who does not want a divorce – with the unhappy parent who wants out. Both legal experts and religious leaders agree that this reform could cut America’s divorce rate in half. Therefore, I have written a short book, “How To Cut America’s Divorce Rate in Half” (www.MarriageSavers.org). Mike Huckabee wrote its Foreword, which begins: “Divorce is wreaking havoc on America. One of the single worst decisions of our judicial system has been the creation of No Fault Divorce. When it is easier to get out of a marriage than it is to get out of a car loan, something is terribly wrong. When families are destroyed, often because of the selfish actions of one of the partners, something is wrong. When children are innocent victims and have to grow up in a broken home, something is wrong.” John Crouch, President of Americans for Divorce Reform, adds, “As a divorce lawyer I see every day how much carnage and anger the divorce process causes, and how damaging it is to men, women and children alike…With this book, McManus points the way toward changes that could reduce divorce by 50 percent, as part of a cultural revolution just as profound and dramatic as the one that gave us our present-day levels of divorce, cohabitation and single parenthood.” However, changing state law to give both parents a voice on divorce will be very difficult. I served on a Virginia Marriage Commission last year. It included representatives of the Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General (from both parties), professors of law and sociology, leading therapists, clergy and national experts. We agreed unanimously to replace No Fault with Mutual Consent for couples with children. Yet it was almost impossible to get a legislator to introduce a bill and it never got a hearing. Why? “Legislators do not know the cost of divorce in tax dollars,” said Chris Freund, the Foundation’s vice president. However, a major study was released this year, “The Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing” by the Institute for American Values. It estimated that state and federal governments spend $112 billion for welfare, Food Stamps, Medicaid, housing subsidies, Head Start, etc. The study estimated that a 1% drop in the divorce rate would save taxpayers $1.1 billion. A 50% drop would save $55 billion. However, the estimate did not include the $26 billion No Child Left Behind costs, the $40 billion Earned Income Tax Credit, and included only 8.6% of prisons, though more than half those in prison come from broken families. Family fragmentation costs at least $200 billion. Half of that is $100 billion. Federal savings: at least $70 billion to $75 billion. Another reason the reform failed is that all Virginia legislators who might consider Divorce Reform are attorneys, many of whom profit from divorce. Therefore, I propose that the Federal Government reduce federal welfare subsidies by 5% until states give both parents a voice on divorce. When Welfare Reform was passed in 1996, Washington was spending $16.5 billion on public assistance. That became a block grant which did not drop even if welfare rolls fell. Welfare rolls plunged 60%, giving states a $10 billion “Welfare Reform Surplus.” That’s what I propose be cut by 5%. Here’s a way to preserve families and cut the federal deficit. Copyright © 2008 Michael J. McManus