If You REALLY Want to Decrease Divorce

Alabama’s first lady Patsy Riley wants to persuade Alabamians who are already married to renew their wedding vows to reduce Alabama’s sky-high divorce rate. Here’s a nice writeup about it from the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. What I know about her initiatives to improve Alabama’s general wellness and to prepare preschoolers better to succeed as students makes me respect her caring and motivation. I have to applaud her willingness to go public about the problem of divorce in Alabama and to propose a solution. So I take her proposal at face value, an earnest attempt to improve Alabama’s vexing record on failed marriages.

In that spirit, let’s get real. Persuading a few thousand like-minded conservative Christians to troop to Montgomery for a big PR splash will make all of them feel good and may even improve sales of flowers and jewelry for awhile, but it’s not going to decrease divorce. If you want to decrease divorce, do it by getting to the heart of what causes divorce in Alabama.

First, cut down on poverty. The dirty little secret about divorce is that poor people divorce more than rich people, and poor people are a resource with which Alabama is richly blessed. So let’s get behind your husband’s courageous but (heretofore) unsuccessful attempt to improve the fairness of Alabama’s tax structure, now ranking as the most regressive in the U.S. Let’s stop taxing Alabamians who make as little as $4,600 per year while allowing the corporations owing Alabama timberland to pay only pennies per acre in property tax.

Next, make it harder to marry, especially when you’re young. Liberals (of which I am one) are quick to point out that conservative Christians have a higher divorce rate than the general population, which is correct. However, my guess is that the reason for the higher divorce rate among conservative Christians is not moral weakness but the tendency among conservative Christians to marry earlier in lilfe. And we know that people who marry young are more likely to divorce.

Let’s adopt a statewide culture that strongly encourages people to get marriage counseling before they say “I do.” And I’m not talking about a prayer and a joint reading of the 13th chapter of First Corinthians. I’m talking about honest, comprehensive, and tough-minded sessions that force the would-be spouses to confront the everyday issues that drive husbands and wives apart, like who gets to decide when to make a major purchase, how they will share income and expenses, who cooks, who makes the bed, and how to fight fair.

I agree with you, Mrs. Riley, that too many people are getting divorced in Alabama. I applaud your initiative to direct your resources to it. Now let’s roll up our sleeves and take the actions that will really help accomplish your goal.

2 thoughts on “If You REALLY Want to Decrease Divorce”

  1. This is a nice gesture by the first lady and the motivation for it is obvious but, I do not believe this will have any effect on divorce rates. In order to reduce divorce in Alabama, legislation must be past that removes the winner-take-all enviroment of divorce proceedings especially where children are involved. A comprehensive shared parenting bill that creates a presumption that both parents are fit entering into divorce proceedings and that they will be equally involved in the raising of their children after divorce. This also requires a comprehensive parenting plan to be submitted to the court either by both parties or individually (pre-conflict resolution). If a parenting plan is not submitted to the court or does not meet the “best interest of the child” standard a divorce will not be granted. After all, if the “Best Interest of the Child” is paramount in Alabama, it should trump no-fault divorce laws and the court would be well within its discretion to deny a divorce until the parents act in the best interest of their children. If the “best interest of the child” was really paramount, divorce “in general” would not be allowed in Alabama. Common sense and social science tells us that lacking an abusive or “not fit parent” divorce and no-fault divorce laws are devastating to our children and society as a whole.

  2. Lee,
    I agree with most of your premises that providing tax relief would help the divorce rate amoung the economically disadvantaged, especially if they are not otherwise able and willing to improve their economic conditions. However, you have swallowed the liberal’s socialist line that the tax burden should be unloaded on the backs of property owners. Think! if someone saves their income and purchases property–timberland in this case–does that provide them additional income to carry a gereater portion of the tax base than they already bear? Just because they now own property, what additional income might that provide to pay additional taxes? What that does is make the taxed property less valuable and less desireable, and certainly drives current owners away from their assets. Timberland is an investment, and its current market value is based on its current and expected economic return (income plus appreciation). Increase the tax, and its value is driven down (taking away income from other sources and devaluing its current value and reducing any anticipated appreciation). Timberland–the dirt–is an asset that does not provide consistent, frequent cash flow from which owners can pay annual taxes. Cash income from a given piece of timberland usually takes 10-15 after making a significant investment to plant timber that is often equal to half the value of the dirt itself. To redesign a state tax system relying on taxing an asset base that requires major investments to bring into production and that will not generate cash except every 10-15 years and which cash flow is exposed to frequent natural disasters (hurricanes, fires, bugs, tornadoes, ect.) makes our state’s income source even less reliable and less equitable than under the current system. If the idea is to tax corporations on their income stream from timber income, okay, but to tax the asset that is producing the income is short sighted and in-efficient. If you want to see what a wonderful asset timberland is to own, look at what all the international corporations are doing with their timberlands in Alabama and across the country–selling it as quick as they can! Want to design a better system? Drastically reduce earmarking of funds, and require the legislature to balance the budget annually across the board based on current economic conditions. It hurts sometimes when income is cut, but that is what we all have to do in our own lives.

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