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Father-Absence Is Not A Problem
Wednesday, December 28, 2005

In 1995, David Blankenhorn made an earth-moving statement: “father-absence is the greatest social problem we face”.

America was transfixed. Someone had hollered “fire” in a political tinder box. The idea instantly became the talk of the nation.

Blankenhorn liberals, who loathed mounting political pressure to reform the Great Society, had motive for minting the father-absence paradigm while blaming it on men in the same sentence. Their policy goal was more child support enforcement.

This prairie fire brought on a stampede justifying paper conversion of the welfare state into a “child support” state, thus neutralizing nascent pro-marriage welfare reforms sought by the original Republican sponsors.

Classic liberalism teaches us to fix a problem by making someone else pay for it. The Great Society has been doing this for fifty years. We have pumped sums greater than the national debt into it, and have not fixed anything.

Nothing improved because David Blankenhorn was wrong. Father-absence is not a problem. It is a consequence of no-fault divorce. We cannot fix consequences, but they do go away if we fix the problem.

Father-absence is only one of many consequences of no-fault divorce. Some complain about the “child support” problem. Academics ponder why men are not going to college in record numbers. Sociologists wonder why marriage rates are still decreasing. The Army is seeing serious recruiting problems. These are not problems. They are all consequences of no-fault divorce.

The term “ownership society” bears an important clue. When mens’ property, families, life savings, and social position can be easily taken away in a no-fault divorce, intelligent men might find something else to do.

Too many young men now settle for sub-social existences. They are opting-out of college educations in record numbers. A high income is not important when attracting a quality life-mate is not a priority.

It is now common for young men to say that marriage is “too risky”. The Great Society taught them well. Churches who failed to defend marriage now wonder why men now practice faith informally, if at all. “Shacking up” is the consequence reflected in the latest marriage data.

The Army had a
rough recruiting year in 2005, despite record incentives. In 2004, 10,477 of the roughly 153,000 soldiers and officers deployed by the U.S. Army became casualties of no-fault divorce.

Ponder this: Casualty rates stateside are far higher than in Iraq. Of all eligible married men, who is going to risk a four-year enlistment facing a 24% marriage-casualty-rate and a twenty-one year sentence slaving for a conveniently-estranged family?

Boys who do not grow up anticipating a secure long-term homeland investment, as husbands and fathers, have nothing valuable to defend. Ancient Rome learned this lesson the hard way. We are headed there now.

Are we listening attentively to the meaning of these mass value judgments yet? If not, then consider some other serious consequences.

We often put children at serious risk of child abuse in divorce and illegitimacy situations because court process procedurally presumes custody of children to mothers. The aftermath: two-thirds of serious child abuse is caused by single custodial mothers, while natural fathers are the lowest risk group.

Divorce is not the wise solution in most situations of family conflict.
Eighty-six percent of serious domestic violence involves a spouse abusing mood-altering chemicals. Domestic violence rates are approximately three times higher in non-intact families. Children of divorced or never-married mothers are six to 30 times more likely to suffer from serious child abuse.

We need laws that positively help the responsible spouse get the troubled spouse into chemical-abuse treatment. When this fails, we must ensure that custody of children never goes to a chemical-abusing parent.

Revision of federal and state laws that order “child support” benefits greater than what men actually earn will end perverse divorce incentives. There is no reason to hold divorced men to a higher standard of support than we expect of their married counterparts.

Marriage is a haven compared to the divorce trap. Divorce has left more women and children in poverty, uninsured and at risk, than any other event in American history. Men are getting off the marriage bus in record numbers. We must act now.

Reform of no-fault divorce laws will quickly tip the balance in favor of marital responsibility. “No-fault” actually means “no responsibility”. Law and public policy must expect spouses to work responsibly through the normal processes and problems of marriage and aging.

The two-year blues, the four-year boredom, the seven year itch, the fifteen-year mid-life crisis, menopause, and retirement are normal stress-points of any marriage. These life events overlay precisely with peaks in today’s longitudinal “no responsibility” divorce rates.

Americans should be able to divorce if they really want to, but not at the expense of a responsible spouse. If there is no valid cause for divorce, there’s the door if you want one that badly.

We will know in many ways when we have restored a vibrant marriage culture. Divorce, illegitimacy, military recruitment, poverty, child support, crime, child abuse, neglect, health care, and domestic violence will no longer be major risks to our national well-being and security.

David R. Usher is President of the
American Coalition for Fathers and Children, Missouri Coalition