By Rep. Dalman and Susan Ager

News Release: Proposal to abolish no-fault divorce. February 14, 1996, House Republication Communication Services, Lansing, Michigan.

Nearly 40,000 Michigan children lost their two-parent home in 1994. That startling statistic prompted state Representative Jesse Dalman and a group of lawmakers to introduce a package of bills designed to encourage a more stable family environment. Dalman expresses her position when she states, "Two people take the vows of marriage, but under no-fault divorce laws, only one can dissolve the commitment. It's easier to end a marriage than it is to break a contract for buying a household appliance. Disposable marriage cheapens the commitment and degrades our vows of fidelity and lifelong love."

The legislative package introduced is based on recommendations from five statewide public hearings conducted last year by a House Judiciary Subcommittee on Divorce and Friend of the Court Issues. Dalman chairs the panel. Valentine's Day was chosen by proponents of this legislation to bring attention to this matter. Dalman argues, "We speak from our hearts on this day traditionally set aside to honor love....Our goal is to protect the innocent children and nonconsenting spouses caught in the aftermath of failed marriages. Divorce rates across the nation have soared since the implementation of no-fault divorce standards in the early 1970s. Today, the number of marriages is down yet the divorce rate has climbed to 50 percent. The economic and emotional fallout devastates families, forcing children into poverty and afflicting society with numerous problems."

The recommendations address the problems of children from broken homes, and nonconsenting spouses who have had little or no voice in divorce decisions. The average age of children in that group is between 14 and 15. "We are not trying to save marriages that are traumatic or abusive," said the House Associate Speaker Pro Tempore. "We do hope some marginal relationships might be saved, but our primary focus is on creating a system that shelters children from certain negative impacts. Currently, children and nonconsenting spouses lack a legal safety net....."Prevention is the best solution to any problem," Dalman said. "While an educational program can't prevent all divorce, it does lay the groundwork for stronger unions. Families educated about problem-solving skills have a better chance for successful relationships.""Everyone' best interest is served if the state established divorce laws giving ample consideration to children and ensuring that neither party enjoys a legal or strategic advantage over the other," the 90th District lawmaker said. "That is why the proposal includes a requirement for parenting plans for divorcing couples who have minor children."

Dalman said 11 bills and one House concurrent resolution in the package are broken down into three categories -- premarital, predivorce, and postdivorce.

The proposals:

*Require development of a premarital educational program that couples must complete prior to receiving a marriage license. Licenses currently cost $20 and have a three-day waiting period. Couples choosing to waive the training would pay a $100 license fee and wait 30 days before marrying.

*Create fault standards when one spouse does not consent to ending the marriage. The party seeking the divorce may obtain it by establishing such grounds as desertion, drug or alcohol abuse, physical or mental abuse, infidelity, or a prison sentence of three or more years.

*Establish a program for couples younger than 18, focusing on issues of minors and marriage and the roles of extended family in a marriage. A parent or guardian of each also must attend the training program.

*Retain the no-fault standard for consenting couples. If minor children are involved, all parties must also participate in a predivorce education program. If one spouse does not consent to the divorce, the court may order predivorce training or either spouse may request it.

*Allowing consenting couples to file a simple form of divorce when total fair market value of a marital property is less than $4,000, and combined income less than $25,000.

*Address issues of spousal support schedules, health care coverage, use of ex-parte court orders, and changing of assets when divorce is sought.

Dalman favors parenting plans because they define how the parents will provide for physical care, emotional stability, changing the needs of children, and post-secondary education."Parenting plans go to the heart of the most devastating impact of divorce," Dalman said. "No-fault divorce supposedly did away with acrimony in dissolving marriages. Instead, the animosity has shifted to the children and it is they who suffer the most painful consequences. Children should not be weapons in a battle for control."

The proposed legislation also sets forth guidelines for minimizing exposure to harmful parental conflict, outlining the authority of each parent, encouraging parents to meet their responsibilities through mutual agreements and not by judicial intervention, protecting the best interests of the children, and providing a residential schedule for them. Parents failing to comply with the plan could be held in contempt of court.

Michigan Law Can't Dictate Wedded Bliss

By Susan Ager, Detroit Free Press, Sunday, February 18, 1996

When a man I know married his sweetheart in 1972, neither assumed it would be forever. They spoke words about forever, he says, but "only as required by the ceremony." I remember him telling me they planned to re-evaluate their marriage every five years to decide if they want to re-up.

The good news: They're still together. They might well have split, though -- rationally, calmly, cherishing their good times, but moving on before bitterness stained even their best memories. "Maybe that's why we made it," my friend says, "because we never assumed we would."

LOVE'S FAILINGS: He's onto something. "Until death do us part" is a clever romantic phrase that reminds us we want company till our last day. But doesn't it trap us in unrealistic expectations of marriage? What else do we insist should last forever? Human relationships are fragile and prone to disease. Not all marriages deserve to be saved, and I'd argue that divorce has redeemed more human spirits than it has doomed.

Now, though, a Michigan legislator has introduced a bill that would make divorce more difficult. In cases where only one spouse is ready to divorce, that spouse must prove his or her partner is guilty of any of several terrible things: abuse, infidelity, alcoholism, drug addiction.One person's disinterest or lonliness would become insufficient to justify a divorce.

"We must protect the children!" opponents of easy divorce say. But what about encouraging women to become financially self-sufficient before they become mothers? What about keeping better track of dead-beat dads? What about government-financed day care? What about training husbands and wives to enter divorce, for the sake of their children, not as a war but as a creative project for change?

A BITTER LESSON: Even now, in households where divorce is taboo, children grow up learning the ways of love from moms and dads who never embrace, who rarely laugh together, who fail to demonstrate that arguments can end with compromise and forgiveness.These moms and dads become role models for bitterness, resignation or both.This is good for the kids? This teaches them commitment? No wonder commitment gets a bad rap, promising dullness and ache.Can mandated premarital counseling, also past of the new legislation, help keep two people happily together until death? Chances are slim.

A minister I respect has abandoned most premarital counseling after noticing that much of what he had to say evaporated in the overheated optimism of young engaged couples who "believe their love is more pure and open and honest than anyone else's." That love, they're sure, will vaccinate their marriage against unhappiness or peril.

I remember believing that about my own marriage, too. Thank God we were at least unafraid of talk. Premarital counseling can't hurt, but it won't train couples for marriage's surprises any more than a flight attendant's routine safety speech will prepare passengers for terror in the air. You gotta live it to know it.

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