Not everybody who files for divorce is absolutely bound and determined. A surprisingly high proportion of divorcing couples are ambivalent. In one major study, one year after the divorce, at least one spouse in three-quarters of divorcing couples reported second thoughts. Between 40 percent and 60 percent of divorced people in various state polls say they wish they had tried harder to make their marriages succeed. Meanwhile, only a minority of divorcing parents appear to be in high-conflict or violent marriages.
Thus, research suggests a significant minority of divorcing couples may be candidates for successful reconciliation. Government-funded pilot projects testing a variety of strategies and establishing effective divorce education programs could have a profound impact on divorce rates, at relatively low cost.
To succeed, Bush's marriage initiative should support a variety of promising, noncoercive strategies to help young parents who are interested in marriage succeed and to educate young Americans on the importance of delaying pregnancy until marriage. Even small reductions in rates of divorce and unmarried childbearing would carry a big payoff down the road for children, poor communities and taxpayers.
Government is deeply involved in the family lives of poor, single parents and their children. Government actively instructs youths in the value of contraceptives, sexual abstinence, education, jobs and delaying childbearing until the post-teen years.
In this context, the looming absence of any government effort to support marriage does not represent neutrality. Balancing supports for single parents with a powerful marriage message is the least a government concerned about poor children should do.
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.
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