Love and the Law

  A 12-year-old girl—I'll call her Rachel—was seeing a counselor. One day the counselor asked her to write down the best and the worst things that had ever happened to her. The worst thing, Rachel wrote, "was when my parents got divorced." Ironically, Rachel was just a toddler when her parents divorced, and she doesn't even remember the actual event. Yet she has a deep, visceral sense that that was the moment her world was shattered. Unfortunately, America's legal system actually helps create tragedies like Rachel's. How? By treating marriage and divorce so casually. Nearly all 50 states have no-fault divorce laws that allow anyone to get a divorce—whether the other spouse wants it or not. No other legal contract can be broken so easily. Put bluntly, no-fault divorce laws mean that people can flout their marriage vows with impunity. A husband can beat his wife, refuse to support his children, run off with a younger woman—and he can still go to court and demand half the family's assets. What no-fault divorce laws have done is remove the moral dimension from family law. Under previous laws, the person who broke the marital contract suffered negative consequences. If a man ran off with his secretary, he had to leave his home to his wife and pay child support and alimony. But today the same man can demand the sale of the family home and pocket half its value; he rarely has to pay alimony. It's his innocent wife and children who suffer the adverse consequences. In effect, the law punishes the innocent party who fulfills the marriage contract… and rewards the guilty party who flouts it. These laws are unjust and ought to be changed. Lawmakers around the country are starting to recognize that, and they're fighting to put fairness back into family law. For example, last year Louisiana passed the Covenant Marriage Act as an option for couples committed to the sanctity of marriage. Louisiana couples may now choose between a marriage license that permits a "no-fault" divorce or a "covenant marriage" license—one that commits them to marriage for life. In covenant marriage, the law recognizes adultery, abuse, or abandonment as the only legal grounds for divorce. Couples who choose covenant marriage are required to have premarital counseling. By choosing a covenant marriage license, a couple is saying that their marriage really is "till death us do part"—and the law will support that decision. About a dozen other states are considering writing a covenant marriage option into their own books. Church leaders, children's activists, and attorneys ought to line up behind reforms like Louisiana's—especially we Christians. Why? Because Christians are called to be salt and light in our society: a force for preserving the institutions God has ordained as the basis of the social order. In America's divorce epidemic, no-fault laws are very much at fault: Just ask kids like Rachel. We need to find ways to build moral accountability back into family law.


Chuck Colson


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