THE BLOG

The Number One Problem Facing America

11/13/2012 07:41 pm ET | Updated Jan 13, 2013
  • Beverly Willett www.beverlywillett.com; writer, attorney, mom and divorce expert

The election is over, but our nation remains as divided as ever. In my view, however, the number one problem facing America today is not the deficit or unemployment or health care. It's family instability. And the welfare of our families and the health of our marriages is not a political, partisan or gender-related issue. Divorce reform is necessary.

While the countdown to the fiscal cliff has begun, this past year our country also reached what could be an equally cataclysmic juncture: the marriage rate barely crossing the 50 percent mark. Meanwhile, the percentage of cohabitating couples increased, and divorce rates remained high.

Yet, it is undisputed that marriage builds economic wealth and promotes physical and emotional well-being. And that marriage helps safeguard children from the ravages of poverty, drug abuse, physical abuse, teen pregnancy, smoking, reduced educational attainments, depression and early death.

Our nation was built on the premise of unity while fully embracing our differences. Our finest moments in American history reflect our collaboration; our worst reveal our separation. So, too, it is with our relationships. Divorce reform is truly a no-brainer; it's also possible.

A year and a half ago, I partnered with Chris Gersten to form the Coalition for Divorce Reform (CDR), a "non-partisan coalition of divorce reform leaders, marriage educators, domestic violence experts, scholars and concerned citizens dedicated to efforts to reduce unnecessary divorce and promote healthy marriages." I'm a Democrat; Chris was the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Administration for Children and Families during the Bush administration. Nevertheless, Chris and I are firm in our foundation.

And our supporters, including our Board of Advisors, span the spectrum from left to right. We do not let what separates us in other arenas divide us in our common mission.

We care deeply about the future well-being of our nation's families. We know for certain that divorce does not serve that end, and that the price paid for millions of divorces over the last 40 years has proven devastating, especially for our children. We believe that a majority of the marriages that end in divorce can be saved. And we are committed to building public awareness about the negative impact of divorce and advocating for legislative reform. It's that simple.

One of our nation's most respected leaders had this to say about America's divorce crisis:

"Divorce has become too easy because of our permissive laws and attitudes."

"Recent studies demonstrate convincingly that while many adults claim to have benefitted from divorce and single parenthood, most children have not."

"Children without fathers, or whose parents float in and out of their lives after divorce, are the most precarious little boats in the most turbulent seas."

"With divorce as easy as it is, and its consequences so hard, people with children need to ask themselves whether they have given marriage their best shot and what more they can do to make it work before they call it quits."

The source of these powerful statements? If you guessed a conservative, Republican and possibly Evangelical man, you'd be wrong on all counts. The leader is Hillary Clinton. She also said: "I think getting a divorce should be much harder when children are involved."

It is a widely held misperception that such views are only the bailiwick of Republicans and conservatives.

Indeed, when no-fault divorce came before the New York legislature for a vote several years ago, the Catholic Church had an unlikely bedfellow: the New York chapter of National Organization for Women (NOW). According to NOW New York, the New York Senate had thrown "women and children under the bus." The CDR believes that no-fault has thrown our nation's fathers under the bus, too, and is therefore sponsoring modest divorce reform legislation: the Parental Divorce Reduction Act.

For over a decade, I've been attending an Episcopal church near my home. It's unlike any house of worship I've ever attended -- black, white, Hispanic, gay and straight, wealthy and poor. We come only to worship. And during the peace, we shake hands. Then we break bread. We can do the same with divorce reform.

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