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No fault divorce and the marriage crisis
April 04, 2005
By R. Albert Mohler Jr., President, Southern Seminary

By now, any observer with a modicum of moral insight is aware that marriage is an institution in crisis. Nevertheless, one of the most significant factors contributing to this crisis is often overlooked, and that one factor has led to the breakup of more marriages than any other no-fault divorce.

In an insightful article published in the March 2005 edition of Crisis magazine, Stephen Baskerville, a political scientist at Howard University, argues that America's embrace of easy divorce is the most significant reason that marriage is now threatened and, by some measures, hanging by a thread.

The story behind America's love affair with no-fault divorce is a sad and instructive tale. As Baskerville documents, no-fault divorce laws emerged in the United States during the 1970s and quickly spread across the nation. Even though only nine states had no-fault divorce laws in 1977, by 1995, every state had legalized no-fault divorce.

Behind all this is an ideological revolution driven by feminism and facilitated by this society's embrace of autonomous individualism. Baskerville argues that divorce "became the most devastating weapon in the arsenal of feminism, because it creates millions of gender battles on the most personal level." As far back as 1947, the National Association of Women Lawyers [NAWL] was pushing for what we now know as no-fault divorce. More recently, NAWL claims credit for the divorce revolution, describing it as "the greatest project NAWL has ever undertaken."

Baskerville gets right to the heart of the matter, labeling no-fault divorce as a "misnomer." In reality, the "no-fault" language was taken from the world of automobile insurance. These new divorce laws did not really remove fault from the context of divorce, but they "did create unilateral and involuntary divorce, so that one spouse may end a marriage without any agreement or fault by the other." As Baskerville explains, "Moreover, the spouse who divorces or otherwise abrogates the marriage contract incurs no liability for the cost or consequences, creating a unique and unprecedented legal anomaly."

In many cases, the reality is even worse. In effect, no-fault divorce means that the courts now assist the violator of marriage vows. Any spouse can now demand a divorce for any reason and be assured that the courts will award the divorce and will often grant disproportionate favor to the party seeking the divorce.

Marriage is now compromised to the extent that it is difficult even to engage this culture with an honest discussion about marriage and divorce.

Divorce once a matter of shame and tragedy is now celebrated as a positive good.

As if all that isn't bad enough, divorce has now become an industry. Some lawyers and law firms specialize in divorce practice, and Baskerville describes the legal divorce business as "a multibillion-dollar industry" in which a vast number of persons hold a vested interest.

That's where the Christian church must enter the picture and provide leadership. Where are our pastors on the question of divorce? Why are so many pulpits silent on this issue? The obvious answer is fear and intimidation. Divorce has become so common that many Christian leaders fear creating a tidal wave of offense and resentment if they deal honestly with the issue or address it at all. Accordingly, successive generations of Christians have now grown to adulthood believing that divorce is simply a lifestyle option. Where is the recognition that divorce is an affront to the glory of God and a sin that is expressly described in the Bible as an evil that God hates?

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. In so doing, the Christian church has become complicit with the divorce culture and will bear God's judgment for its failure of nerve.

We need a recovery of courage and candor on the issue of divorce and in a hurry. Stephen Baskerville is right. 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.

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