New York's politicians couldn't manage to pass a budget before going on vacation for July 4th, but somehow they managed to take time to pass what they euphemistically called a "no-fault" divorce bill?
First, truth in labeling: This is not a no-fault divorce bill; it's a pro-divorce bill. New York state already has no-fault divorce, by mutual consent. What this bill does is permit one spouse to divorce the other for any reason, or for no reason at all. That's not no-fault divorce; it's unilateral divorce.
Why did they do it?
Gov. Paterson, who -- God bless him -- recently vetoed a stack of spending bills 2 feet high, told the Albany Times-Union that he will sign the pro-divorce bill.
New York has one of the lower divorce rates in this country. There are no signs that citizens are threatening to descend on Albany with pitchforks if legislators don't rush to alter the divorce law. The two things we now know for sure are that making divorce easier increases the divorce rate and that more divorce costs taxpayers more money -- not a great thing to do in a budget mess.
A recent review of the literature that professor Doug Allen and I did for the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy concluded: "No-fault divorce did increase the divorce rate. Seventeen of 24 recent empirical studies find that the introduction of no-fault divorce laws increased the divorce rate, by one estimate as much as 88 percent. More typically, studies estimate no-fault divorce increased divorce rates on the order of 10 percent."
Unnecessary divorce hurts children, and also costs U.S. taxpayers at least $112 billion a year in increased welfare and other social services to help contain the damages of family fragmentation, according to a recent study also co-published by IMAPP and the Institute for American Values (www.americanvalues.org).
So why did they do it?
The puzzle deepens because the same lies and half-truths that were used to justify so-called no-fault divorce statutes in the '70s and '80s are simply repeated by the bill's proponents as if we have learned nothing in the ensuing generation about the bad effects of divorce on children, society and even the taxpayers.
"It just gives another option and allows couples to divorce with dignity, where right now the system forces one of the members of the couple to be a bad person," said New York state Assemblyman Jonathan Bing, D-Manhattan, the bill's sponsor.
This is a flat-out lie. The legislation does not just give another "option," nor does it enable "couples" to do anything. It ends the legal requirement that a spouse negotiate with the person he or she married to obtain a no-fault divorce and empowers the government to side with the one who wants the divorce. The spouse who is left will not have another option: He or she will have no option. That's truth.
When politicians mislead the public about what they are doing, you have to wonder what their real motivations are.
I asked Marcia Pappas, head of the National Organization for Women's New York state chapter -- which has fought a valiant battle against this bill for years -- why the legislature would do this, especially at this incredibly troubled time.
"Ninety-five percent of divorces in New York are currently settled by negotiation," she told me. "This bill will increase the number of divorce cases that go to trial. It will increase litigation. Who stands to benefit the most? Divorce lawyers. The New York State Bar Association and the Women's Bar Association of the State of New York are the only major players pushing for this bill."
Great, family law created by the lawyers for the lawyers.
As I write, Gov. Paterson has not yet signed this bill. Governor, I beg you, you've stood for the taxpayers before, now whip out that veto pen on behalf of the families of New York. For that, taxpayers will thank you, too.
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.