Ruth Speaks Out

This blog is maintained by the Ruth Institute. It provides a place for our Circle of Experts to express themselves. This is where the scholars, experts, students and followers of the Ruth Institute engage in constructive dialogue about the issues surrounding the Sexual Revolution. We discuss public policy, social practices, legal doctrines and much more.

Press Release: 'Go to Confession' Campaign


For immediate release:

“Families don’t just ‘break down.’ Marriages don’t just ‘fall apart.’ Somebody sins! So, go to Confession!” –Ruth Institute President, Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse

Ruth Institute launches ‘Go to Confession’ Campaign

(March 14, 2017, Lake Charles, LA) During this season of Lent, The Ruth Institute has launched an online and billboard campaign encouraging people of all faiths to make things right with God. “Families don’t just ‘break down.’ Marriages don’t just ‘fall apart.’ Somebody sins!” Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse stated in announcing the campaign. “That is why have launched a series of billboards and social media messages urging people to go to confession!”

Even in cases where one person has the major responsibility for fracturing the family, all family members can benefit from going to confession. “The injured parties may need help with bitterness, anger, emotional paralysis and many other issues. The grace of confession can help them,” Dr. Morse explained. “And of course, it goes without saying: if you have injured your family through addiction, abuse, adultery or desertion, go to confession. Jesus is waiting for you in the confessional and wants to forgive you. If you can’t tell him, in the person of the priest, that you are sorry, how are you ever going to be able to face your ex-spouse or your children?”

“Our ‘Go to Confession’ campaign reminds people that God is merciful and He will forgive us. What better time than during Lent?” Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, founder and president of the Ruth Institute said.

The Institute launched a billboard campaign in Lake Charles, LA, with messages: “Jesus is waiting for you,” “Sin makes you stupid,” featuring St. Thomas Aquinas (who loosely said that), and “Party’s over. Go to confession,” with an image of Mardi Gras debris. “Lake Charles is in the heart of Cajun Country, the Catholic buckle on the Bible belt. If we can’t publicly urge people to go to confession here, where can we? And the world desperately needs this encouragement.”

Dr. Morse added. “Guilty consciences make it harder for us to move forward and to resolve the issues caused by our sins, or the bitterness we’ve held onto from the sins of others.” Find the Ruth Institute’s ‘Go to Confession’ images on their website here, here and here.

The Ruth Institute is a global non-profit organization dedicated to finding Christ-like solutions to the problems of family breakdown. Founded by world renowned author, speaker and academic, Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, the Ruth Institute has accumulated decades of research to support individuals and families harmed by divorce, the hook-up culture, and other forms of family breakdown.

Reply to this email if you’d like to interview Dr. Morse further about this unique and beneficial ‘Go to Confession’ campaign.

Torn Asunder: Children, the Myth of the Good Divorce, and the Recovery of Origins

Book Summary, by Bai Macfarlane, posted here.

One quarter of today’s young adults are children of divorce (66) and a book from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute examines anew the nature and meaning of marriage: Torn Asunder: Children, the Myth of the Good Divorce, and the Recovery of Origins.

The book’s back cover blurb shows, “After decades of talk about the rights of adults to get a divorce and the benefits for children of an amicable split between parents (a so-called ‘good divorce’), these authors—theologians, philosophers, political scientists, lawyers, psychologists, sociologists, and cultural critics—effectively unsettle conventional opinion.”

Umpteen studies have concluded that children of divorce are disadvantaged compared to children of married parents. However, Torn Asunder explains that children of divorce are deeply wounded, either parent entering a second marriage does not solve the problems (28). Contributor, Paul Sullins, sociologist, says, “[T]he effect of divorce on a child is best described as a loss of being, an impairment at the level of his or her existence” (38). Moreover, author Andrew Root, who is an associate professor of Youth and Family Ministry, finds “divorce radically changes the way the young people live their lives, because their world has changed;… this sends shockwaves back to her own being”(p. 100). Theologian, Fr. Antonio López, writes, “losing one’s place in being radically puts into question life’s meaning, that is, the unity between oneself, others, the world, and the divine source of all that is” (123).

A child of divorce herself, theologian Lisa Lickona, describes in Torn Asunder the reaction of children of divorce: “I felt that I was being extinguished, that I would fall into that abyss and disappear from the face of the earth. I did the only thing I thought I could do, the thing most children of divorce do. I tried not to think about it.” She describes this self-preservation technique as the “’bubble wrap method’: wrapping and forgetting, keeping one’s memories in check with diversion and distraction” (17). According to modernity, it is natural for the closest relationships between parents, children, and spouses, to be tenuous, explains theologian and the editor of Torn Asunder, Margaret Harper McCarthy. She says, however, that the children of divorce aren’t being convinced.

But nature has a way of rising again, and in a strange ways. … In this light, it is perhaps not so ironic that it is the children of divorce who, on the basis of their ‘experience of deprivation’—and against the many attempts to convince them otherwise—are putting their fingers on something more original—more natural—than the tenuousness between parents and their children. It is they who are putting their fingers on the necessary link between our identity and our origin (in our parents) (218).

With the enactment of no-fault divorce, policy makers rejected the notion that family is the building cell of society, replacing it with both the unhindered freedom of the individual, and the power of the state. In the eyes of the law, marriage—understood as a lifelong union between man and woman for the rearing and education of children—does not exist (135). In his essay tracing the changes in Lutheran theology in the United States, historian, Ryan C. McPherson, points out that, “It is no longer divorce, but rather its condemnation, that is become taboo for all” (148). The family is no longer the fundamental unit of society. “In its place, a swarm of isolated individuals competed, through their attorneys, for rights to property, child custody, and child visitation; … The no-fault revolution has not only severed the lifelong bond between husband and wife but is also ruptured the natural linking between parent and child” (135).

In Torn Asunder, psychologist and founder of The Institute for Marital Healing, Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, explains that counselors themselves cause the problem because marital therapists are known to adopt “the ‘psychological’ view of marriage where the primary obligation is not to one’s spouse and family but to one’s self alone” (56). Another contributing psychologist, Dr. Margaret R. Laracy, says “therapists often assess whether the marriage is working or workable, rather than focusing on marital healing from the start. This pragmatic starting point can leave therapist to support or even recommend a decision to divorce”(193). Not being able to talk together was a reason for filing for divorce in 53 percent of cases, and growing apart was the reason for 55 percent of the cases, according to study cited by Fitzgibbons (55). In his own clinical experience, he reveals, “the conflicts that most often lead to divorce are insecurity and selfishness in husbands and loneliness and selfishness in wives” (55).

Children whose parents divorce for low-conflict reasons, like those aforementioned, are more harmed by divorce than those whose parents had a high-conflict divorce due to serve destructive behaviors (85). The children of the low-conflict divorce are more likely to lose hope in the institution of marriage altogether, because, if their parents—who appear to get along—could not even hold their marriage together, then how could the young people trust the indissolubility of marriage for themselves.

To deter breakups, Fitzgibbons emphasizes the importance of everyone encouraging parties to “grow in the virtue of justice, which consists in the constant and firm decision to give their due to God and neighbor, and in this case spouses and children” (59). He says clergy should remind spouses of their marriage vows, and the need of children for their parent’s stable union (59). Laracy’s chapter is titled “Sacrifice and Happiness: Approaching an Authentic Therapeutic Response to Married Couples in Distress.” She says that therapists themselves also need to be willing to sacrifice, suffering along with clients for a greater good. In describing her own work with couples she says, “Affirming the inextricability of the marriage bond for the good of the spouses called me to forgo the easy path of passive collusion in the breakdown of their marriage.”

Besides the chapter on sacrifice in marriage, there is also a chapter about forgiveness in marriage by psychologist Andrew J. Sodergren. Forgiveness requires humility to acknowledge one’s own pain and empathy toward the offender (170). Sodergren explains stages of forgiveness, one of which is the “work phase:”

This is where the person does the difficult internal work of letting go of anger and hurt and replacing them with goodwill and beneficence toward the offender. Some key aspects of this phase include learning to see the offender and the offense in a new way. It means gaining a more complex, complete, and/or nuanced view that leaves space for the humanity of the offender.

The willingness to forgive is more potent than any evil in the heart of man (171). Forgiveness starts with the decision to forgive and does not require the reconciliation between the offender and the offended.

Torn Asunder pulls together theological, psychological, and sociological findings demonstrating the failure of the current systems of contraception, cohabitation, infidelity, no-fault divorce, and the “marriage-go-round.” The second-to-last chapter is by Jeanne Heffernan Schindler, a research fellow with the Center for Cultural and Pastoral Research at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. She points out, “What is required to counteract the divorce culture, then, is an alternating anthropology, a different vision of man that can serve as the wellspring for a fundamentally different view of marriage, family and political community. Catholicism offers precisely this alternative. Man as Made for Communion.”

See more excerpts from Torn Asunder HERE

HEY, LIBERALS: Here’s A Pro-Family Argument Even YOU Might Like

by Jennifer Johnson

Published on March 2, 2017, at

This is an image of the Holy Family that I used to keep in my office.


I would look at this image from time to time and pray to Jesus for wisdom for defending marriage and the family. One day I was looking at this image and saw a triangle between the head of Jesus, His mother Mary, her husband Joseph, then back to Jesus. I thought to myself, “Wow, that’s the family structure! It’s a triangle! It is not only a reflection of the Holy Family, it is a reflection of the Trinity!”

This excited me for a couple reasons. For one thing, I’ve discovered that the average person doesn’t understand what “family structure” or “structural issues” mean. Policy wonks, like me, tend to take for granted what we mean when we use phrases like that. To be able to show the family as a triangle means that the average person now has a simple way to understand what those phrases mean.

I was also excited because I wondered how it would apply to my own childhood.

I had not been raised with my own married parents. My parents divorced when I was three and went on to subsequent marriages, divorces, different children, a lot of back and forth between “two homes,” and a lot of chaos.

So I went home that night and applied the family triangle to my situation.

I carefully drew it all out, using several pieces of paper. It took me several tries to get everybody to fit onto the page in a way that made sense and was proportional.

As I worked on it, I could tell that it was going to be far more complex than I had ever imagined.

This is what I saw:


That’s me, in the bottom center circle.

What do you think? What is your gut response to this?

The first few hours after I finished the drawing were surreal, and I was in a daze.

Seriously, what is this? How was I supposed to navigate this as a child, alone?

In fact, I didn’t navigate it at all. I blocked parts out as time went on, out of necessity. That’s why it was such a shock to see it all there in a two-dimensional way.

One of the first things that stuck out at me was how ugly it is. It looked like a malformed spider’s web.

It was not pretty like the simple triangle I had seen.

I had a flood of emotions come over me, as it brought back memories of people that left my life due to divorce, so I was supposed to have forgotten them when that happened.

My initial excitement had turned to tears of sadness.

And so I cried, a lot at first.

As time went on, I became angry at God for showing this to me. I couldn’t understand why He would make me feel old pain like that. Why bring it all up again? Why have this ugly family structure burned into my mind now? Wasn’t I better off just burying it all in the back of my mind, as if it never happened? The diagram made me feel ashamed. It was always very difficult to have so many different adults and new family members to reckon with constantly, and I didn’t like having them thrust into my face again all at once.

Is it safe for me to say that I just wanted my own family? MY family, MY triad, MY home?

Social conservatives believe in equality for children, because they believe in this for every child:


When every child has this, without the extraneous people as I had, it is a form of equality.

The problem with this argument is that conservatives are not drawn to it. Equality is not a primary ideal in conservatism. But if we stop to think about it, I think it is fair to say that our recent loss over same-sex marriage may have been because our argument did not appeal to people’s sense of fairness. The appeal to equality was an appeal to fairness, after all.

Let’s consider the pro-life movement and see if there is something there that can help us. recently published some interesting remarks by Daniel K. Williams, author of Defenders of the Unborn and associate professor of history at the University of West Georgia. He makes the argument that the pro-life movement started as a liberal movement based on social justice and human rights. He believes that the movement gains vitality and appeal when its proponents frame the issue using liberal values.

I discovered that we can do the same thing. We can embrace the liberal value of equality. The ancient Christian teachings on sex and marriage means that every child is to be raised with his or her own married mother and father, except for an unavoidable tragedy.

That’s a type of equality that people don’t talk about, but it is real. And there are other equalities that flow out of that one. When the family breaks down or doesn’t form according to the triad, inequalities for children multiply. I think it is exciting to see that this form of equality has been the flip-side of the ancient Christian teaching on marriage and sex all along.

You can learn more about this form of equality, and about the inequalities children face who were not raised with their own married parents. Go to the Ruth Institute website and order my new Special Report, called, “Marriage and Equality: How Natural Marriage Upholds the Ideal of Equality for Children.” It includes stories and easy-to-understand diagrams that will help you reopen this discussion with your friends and family members who may believe in same-sex marriage.

By embracing the liberal value of equality we can show people that we hold an ideal that they care about. This may help them listen to what we are saying. After all, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Go here to order this Special Report now:

I don’t want to give away too much, but remember how I said I cried when I drew the diagram of my family structure? If you order the report, you read the story of how God worked that out for good.

How to marry the right person

Five tips to get you started on the path to a happy marriage.

This article was first posted November 25, 2016, at

If you are a take-your-vows-seriously type of person and believe in “till death do us part,” your life will be much simpler if you marry the right person to begin with. For some this seems a difficult task. Here are five tips to get you started.

1. If you’re dating someone to the point where things have crossed over that indefinable line into a “serious relationship,” stop and ask yourself if this is someone you want to spend the rest of your life with. Can you see this person as the mother or father of your children? If not, why are you wasting your time? Don’t put off the inevitable. It will only be harder later on for both of you. Meanwhile, the person who is right for you is out there still, waiting to meet that wonderfulness that is you. Or perhaps you already know him or her, but you’ve just been unavailable. Don’t stay with someone who isn’t right for you out of fear of being alone. Instead, get yourself one step closer to lifelong happiness—with the right person.

2. Ask the opinion of your mom or best friend

when it comes to your relationship with this person. They know you better than anyone and have an outsider’s view of your relationship. Does that person think you two are a good match? Do they like your significant other? If not, why? The tricky part here is to be open to the other person’s objective opinion. You may be filled with warm fuzzies just at the thought of this person, but those feelings will not last and will not sustain a marriage. There needs to be something backing the emotion. A person on the outside can see if your relationship has substance. Listen to that person.

3. Discuss children, finances, and in-law involvement. These are all issues that can cause conflict later on. If you truly love this person, learn to compromise. If you’re truly right for each other, you will agree on important areas such as these. If one of you wants seven kids and the other wants zero—you’ve most likely got a deal breaker. If one of you is a penny pincher and the other a spend-thrift, you may have conflict in your future life together. If one of you wants your mom essentially to live with you, while the other thinks a week-long visit every five years is sufficient, you’d best work that out now. Men, especially, have trouble saying no to their mother, but once the ring is on your finger, gentlemen, your wife becomes the most important woman in your life. She takes precedence. Your mom will need to understand that.

4. Once you’re engaged, take the marriage preparation seriously. Listen to the experts whose mission is to help you be sure you’re making the right decision and to have the best marriage possible. Engaged couples break up. It happens all the time, but better now than years, and children, down the road. Are there any nagging issues that you’ve been repeatedly pushing to the background or rationalizing away? Do you think he or she will eventually change, or that the grace from the sacrament of matrimony will fix everything? If that’s what you’re hoping for, you should know that it doesn’t work that way. Use this as a test: when you haven’t seen the other person for an extended amount of time, how do you feel when you do see him or her again? Does your heart sing or does it flop? Does it feel nothing at all? Take a hard, honest look at how you truly feel about this person. And do it now before it’s too late.

And finally and most importantly, if you’ve dotted your i’s and crossed your t’s when it comes to all the tips above, don’t blow it now by moving in together before the wedding. Cohabitation greatly increases your chances of divorce. What you don’t realize, and what society doesn’t tell you, is that living together means you don’t fully trust each other. “Playing house” is a mere rehearsal for those who don’t love or trust each other enough to do things right the first time. Instead, it’s using one another.

Real love cares about doing things right, in the right order. If you really love one another, and want to be together for the rest of your lives, don’t sabotage your future now. What’s waiting a few more months when you have a lifetime ahead of you? If you don’t believe me, keep this in mind: research by the National Marriage Project showed that “no positive contribution of cohabitation to marriage has ever been found,” and if you take the time to look, you’ll find lots of research stating the pitfalls of cohabitation—the stuff no one dares to talk about even though the evidence is overwhelming. Think you can beat the odds? So does everyone else. What makes you any different from them?

Remember that love is doing the right thing for the sake of the other person’s happiness and well-being, even, and especially, when it’s inconvenient to you. That may mean making the hard decision to break things off, or to wait to live together even though society may mock and misunderstand you. The greatest reward, a lifetime of married happiness, belongs to those who do the difficult, but honest and selfless acts. Best of luck to you!

Betsy Kerekes is Director of Online Publications at the Ruth Institute and co-author with Dr Jennifer Roback Morse of a new book: 101 Tips for Marrying the Right Person: Helping Singles Find Each Other, Contemplate Marriage, and Say I Do.

Man Woman Marriage Creates Equality for children (in more ways than one!)

Marriage and Equality – How natural marriage promotes equality for children

By Jennifer Johnson, Associate Director, the Ruth Institute

“Gay marriage” supporters aren’t the only ones who care about equality. The ancient Christian teachings on sex and marriage ensure that every child is raised with his or her own married mother and father, except for an unavoidable tragedy. That’s a kind of equality people don’t talk about. And we need to talk more about it.


I have observed three ways that natural marriage upholds equality for children.

First way:

Every child lives with his own married mother and father in a unified home, except for an unavoidable tragedy.

The Christian teaching on marriage and sex creates “structural” equality among children—they’re all with their own parents. None of them are shuttling back and forth between “two homes.” None of them have had a genetic parent/family severed from them due to being conceived as a result of anonymous sperm or egg donation. None of them have birth records that have been falsified to accommodate a non-genetic parent’s wishes.

I first saw this form of equality one day when talking to Dr. Morse about her childhood. I asked her, “How many kids had divorced parents when you were young?” She said that she could think of one. So my mind pictured the playground, with her and all her schoolmates on it. I imagined each of them with a diagram of their family structure above their heads, in a little bubble like a cartoon. All of the kids had an intact family, except for one.

Second way:

The acceptance of all family members should be a two-way street between parents and their children.

Natural marriage creates equality between the generations. Let me use an anecdote from my own life to illustrate what I mean.

When I was growing up, my parents were divorced, so I spent my entire childhood doing the back-and-forth thing between “two homes.” They also both remarried. So, in each of those places, I had a male father figure. So, I had two half-time dads, a dad, and a step-dad.

I was about twelve or so when I consciously understood that my two half-time dads did not equal one dad. To a casual observer, it might seem as though me being with each of them for half-time would be the same as having one whole dad.

But it was not.

I am not 100% sure how I came to this realization, but I do remember consciously thinking it as I stood in the driveway one day. It might have been because I was an eye-witness to what a full-time dad looked like. My step-dad was a full-time dad to my half-sister. She lived with both her married parents, my mom, and my step-dad. I could see quite clearly that what she had and what I had were two very different things.

Family photos of other people’s whole families were on the walls, but not of my whole family. Family photos were taken, but not with me in them.

I was the only one who had divided Christmases, divided birthdays. I’ve seen this referred to as “Two Christmases,” or “Two birthdays” in some divorce literature. These are euphemisms. My dad wasn’t welcome on Christmas morning, and my mom wasn’t welcome on Christmas Eve. I don’t think either of them would have come, had they been invited. They were too busy with their new families. And when I got a little older and my parents lived further apart, I traveled alone during the holidays to see each of them. Nobody else had to do that.

Third way:

Everybody’s pain and grief caused by injustice deserves to be expressed, acknowledged, healed, and prevented so that others don’t experience the same thing.

Not only does the inequality happen on the level of the family, it happens in the wider culture. The child lives under a burden and is not allowed to feel anything negative about the particular family form that was chosen for him. If he feels grief about missing half of himself, it is “disenfranchised grief,” grief that is not acceptable to the wider culture.

Our culture is profoundly concerned about adults and their happiness in their marital, sexual and reproductive choices. But we fail to understand that when we redefine all of those things to expand those choices, the children must live under structural inequalities, double standards and unreciprocated demands.

Read Jennifer Johnson’ whole report on Marriage and Equality. We can defend man-woman marriage! We can defend the rights of children to their own parents! Get the arguments you need by downloading the full report Marriage and Equality on your Kindle for $2.99. Or, purchase a physical copy of this brand new Report here.

Top 10 Tips for Marrying the Right Person

by Marcia Segelstein

This article was first published at on October 20, 2016.

One of the first sermons I heard at the Catholic parish where I would eventually be received into the Church was on the subject of marriage. The priest spoke about the relationship between a husband and wife as being indissoluble. Like siblings or parents and children, he told us, spouses formed a different, but equally permanent, bond with each other. It was as though a light bulb went on for me. “Of course,” I thought. “That makes perfect sense!” It was, simply put, the Catholic definition of marriage.

So while I firmly believe that commitment is the most critical ingredient for a marriage as it’s meant to be, choosing the right partner is pretty important, too.

Jennifer Roback Morse and her colleague at the Ruth Institute, Betsy Kerekes, have just released a new book called 101 Tips for Marrying the Right Person: Helping Singles Find Each other, Contemplate Marriage, and Say I Do. It’s an easy read chock full of great advice.

I’ve narrowed their tips down to my top ten favorites, in some cases combining a few.

1) Pray. Pray for encouragement, guidance, and consolation. Pray that you find your future spouse. Pray for him or her. And, as Morse and Kerekes put it, “If you have no prayer life, get one. Right away. For real. You think life is tough now, searching for the right person? Wait until you have to put up with each other – and kids.”

2) Be friends first. My husband started out as my best friend, so I can attest to the wisdom of this advice. It is, as the book says, “an excellent, no-pressure way of getting to know each other without stress or expectations.” It’s also a great way to avoid the pitfalls of the hook-up culture, where physical intimacy comes first, and emotional intimacy not so much.

3) Keep your expectations real. Fight the inclination to expect fairy-tale romance or love at first sight. Or, as Morse and Kerekes write, “This is real life. Your Prince (or Princess) Charming will not magically appear as you sing to the wildlife in the forest.” Nor will your perfect soul mate magically bump into you at Starbucks. You might find your future spouse there. But there’s no such thing as a perfect soul mate.

4) Don’t waste your time. It’s OK to want commitment. If the person you’ve been dating for months doesn’t exclusively want to be with you, ask yourself if he or she is worth it.

5) Try to imagine the future. Specifically, try to imagine the person you’re dating as the parent of your children. Ask yourself if you can picture him or her as a role model for them. “If not,” say Morse and Kerekes, “move on.”

6) Picture introducing your potential future spouse to friends and family. Would you be proud? Or would you find yourself embarrassed or ashamed of some aspect of his or her character? If so, some reevaluating is in order.

7) Take parents into consideration. Or, as the book suggests, “Evaluate your significant other’s relationship with his or her parents as well as your relationship with your own parents.” Most people have some unresolved issues with their parents. Try to determine if you’re ready to live with the consequences of your loved one’s, and take a hard look at your own.

8) Stay chaste. Sexual activity releases hormones that cause feelings of bonding, especially in women. Your ability to think clearly and rationally about what may be the most important decision of your life will be clouded by a hormonal fog otherwise.

9) Don’t live together. Study after study has shown that cohabitating before marriage is not a good idea. The authors put it bluntly: “Ignore the hype from popular culture: couples who live together prior to marriage are more likely to divorce than those who don’t.”

10) When the time comes, focus on the marriage, not the wedding. Keep Bridezilla in check and take this advice from Morse and Kerekes: “Take a deep breath, relax and go with the flow. This one day, though extremely important, is not as important as the rest of your lives.”

'Healing Family Breakdown' retreat set

by Crystal Stevenson / American Press

This article was first published October 21, 2016, at

How to heal after the breakdown of one’s family unit will be the topic of the San Diego-based Ruth Institute’s inaugural Louisiana event.

The “Healing Family Breakdown” retreat will be 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22, at Our Lady Queen of Heaven’s family center, 3939 Kingston St.

The retreat will include short talks, guided meditation and small group discussions, said Ruth Institute founder and retreat organizer Jennifer Roback Morse.

“Pretty much every family is affected by it in some way or another, if not your immediate family then in the extended family,” Morse said. “We realized based on our scientific research that there is an enormous amount of pain associated with it. Just looking around the culture you can see that people are suffering, but they don’t know what to do about it.”

Morse describes the forms of a family breakdown as adults divorced against their will — such as in cases of adultery or desertion; children who experience the divorce of their parents; children born to unmarried parents; and fostered, adopted or donor-conceived people who don’t know their biological parents.

“A lot of times people feel it’s their fault and there’s something wrong with them, but really we have a lot of structural problems causing this,” she said. “So we wanted to put together something that would help people deal with it in their own lives and also have a bigger picture of why it’s so troubling, and that’s what the retreat is designed to do.”

Morse said the retreat will focus on the child’s perspective.

“Our philosophy is that every child is entitled to a relationship with both of their parents unless some unavoidable tragedy takes place to prevent that, and of course that does happen,” she said.

“From the child’s perspective, anything that involves them not being in a day-to-day relationship with both parents, that’s a breakdown. If you look at it from a child’s perspective, sometimes the family is broken down even before it starts.”

Too many families are suffering alone and in silence, Morse said.

“It’s possible to have some healing. The feelings you have of maybe longing for the missing parent or longing for the relationship to somehow be restored, that’s a perfectly valid feeling,” she said.

“It might not happen; you might not be able to control whether it happens or not. But we want people to feel affirmed that at least it’s OK to have that desire.”

Morse said the conference is open to people ages 15 and older. Cost is $30 per person and $50 per family; attendance is free for members of the clergy. To register, visit

It’s Time to Make Marriage Great Again By Redefining Divorce

by Jennifer Roback Morse

This article was first published July 23, 2016, at The Blaze.

Earlier this week, the Ruth Institute sent a letter of commendation and 24 white roses to Charles Chaput, the Archbishop of Philadelphia.

Our letter thanked him for “his clear teaching on marriage, family and human sexuality in the Pastoral Guidelines for Implementing Amoris Laetitia in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.”

With all the excitement of the political conventions, why would we spend our time sending flowers to an archbishop? We want to shine the spotlight on the positive things people are doing to build up society.


The archbishop’s guidelines restate the Ancient Teachings of Christianity regarding marriage, family and human sexuality. These teachings are obscured today. No less a theological heavy weight than the mayor of Philadelphia castigated the archbishop, saying the Guidelines were un-Christian!

To be fair to Mayor Jim Kenny, we have to admit that the publication of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, has caused worldwide confusion over Catholic teaching on marriage. Yelling at the pope has become a new cottage industry among tradition-minded Catholic writers. Pulling his words into a sexually indulgent direction has become a cottage industry among progressives of all faiths. And trying to parse out what he really meant has been a full employment guarantee for everyone.

Rather than getting involved in all that, we want to call attention to people who are implementing the unbroken teaching of the Church in a vibrant manner. Focus on what we know to be true and good. Archbishop Chaput’s Guidelines provide a clear and practical statement of ancient Catholic teaching, in the spirit of genuine mercy, incorporating language from Amoris Laetitia.

I believe that these teachings are correct, good and humane. I founded the Ruth Institute for the purpose of promoting those teachings to the widest audience possible. I don’t believe these things because I am a Catholic. On the contrary. It is precisely because I came to believe in these teachings that I returned to the practice of the Catholic faith after a 12-year lapse.

Let me discuss just one issue that has caused a lot of hand-wringing in the past 2 years. Jesus told us very clearly that remarriage after divorce is not possible. If attempted, it amounts to adultery. Why? According to Jesus, Moses only permitted a man to issue a bill of divorce because of “the hardness of your hearts.” (This is the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 19, in case you were wondering.)

At that point, he could have said, “So, I’m going to eliminate this appalling male privilege and allow women to divorce their husbands, exactly like Moses allowed men to divorce their wives.” However, he did no such thing. He didn’t extend the male privilege. He eliminated it entirely. “From the beginning it was not so,” referring back to God’s original plan for creation. “I tell you, anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” One of the “hard sayings” of Jesus, no doubt. But pretty darn clear.

(And please: don’t trouble me with that so-called loophole, ok? The real innovation in modern no-fault divorce law is that it allows an adulterer to get a divorce against the wishes of the innocent party. No sane person can argue that Jesus provided that “loophole” to allow the guilty party to validly remarry.)

The Church teaches that civilly divorced and remarried Catholics cannot receive communion because she is trying to implement this teaching of Jesus. A civilly divorced and remarried person is living with, and presumably having sex with someone, while still validly married to someone else. If the first marriage is still valid, the second attempted marriage is not valid, and is in fact, adulterous. What is so hard to understand about that?

You know who really understands this concept, who intuitively “gets it?” Children of divorce. Kids look into their parents’ bedroom and see someone who doesn’t belong there. “Who is this guy in bed with my mom: my dad is supposed to be there.” Or, “who is this woman in bed with my dad? My mom is supposed to be there.”

At the Ruth Institute, we know there are situations in which married couples must separate for the safety of the family. But we also know that those cases are by far not the majority of cases. No-fault divorce says a person can get divorced for any reason or no reason, and the government will take sides with the party who wants the marriage the least. The government will permit that person to remarry, against the wishes of their spouse and children.

This is an obvious injustice that no one in our society will talk about. The children of divorce are socially invisible. In fact, I bet some of them felt like crying when they read my paragraph above quoting with approval, what might have gone through their little minds. Many of them have never heard an adult affirm their feelings that something dreadfully wrong and unjust took place in their families.

Jesus knew. Jesus was trying to keep us from hurting ourselves and each other. And the Catholic Church has been trying to implement Jesus’ teaching. You may say the Church has been imperfect in her attempts and I won’t argue with you. But I will say that no one else is even seriously trying.

Political campaigns come and go. Political parties come and go. In fact, nations themselves come and go. But the teachings of Jesus are forever. What we do about marriage and children and love reveals what and whom we truly love.

That is why we congratulate Archbishop Charles Chaput for his guidelines. We wish the Archdiocese all the very best. Make Marriage Great Again.

Young Women Are Gambling On a Losing Game

by Jennifer Roback Morse

This article was first posted at The Blaze on June 1, 2016.


The image from the Huffington Post staff meeting created an immediate backlash for editor Liz Heron’s rhetorical question: “Notice anything about this Huffington Post editors’ meeting?”

Unlike many of the internet commentators, I am not interested in the ethnic diversity or ideological hypocrisy of the Huffington Post. All these editors appear to be twenty-somethings, thirty-somethings at most, with the possible exception of Heron herself. To me, this photo illustrates the most poignant sociological fact of our time: Delayed child-bearing is the price of entry into the professional classes.

Look at these eager young faces. These young ladies have high hopes for their lives.

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An editors’ meeting at Huffington Post. Editor Liz Heron tweeted: “Notice anything about this Huffington Post editors’ meeting?” (Twitter)

They believe that by landing this great job, they are set. Once they are established in their careers, then and only then, can they think seriously about marriage and motherhood. They do not realize that they are giving themselves over to careers during their peak fertility years, with the expectation that somehow, someday, they can “have it all.”

They are being sold a cynical lie.

Here is the bargain we professional women have been making: “We want to participate in higher education and the professions. As the price of doing so, we agree to chemically neuter ourselves during our peak child-bearing years with various types of birth control. Then, when we are finally financially and socially ready for motherhood, we agree to subject ourselves to invasive, degrading and possibly dangerous fertility treatments.”

I am no longer willing to accept this bargain. These arrangements are not pro-woman. They are simply anti-fertility. Any woman who wants to be a mother, including giving birth to her own children, taking care of her own children, and loving their father, needs a better way. Until now, we have been adapting our bodies to the university and the market. I say, we should respect our bodies enough to demand that the university and the market adapt to us and our bodies.


We cannot expect much help from establishment publications like Huff Po, establishment institutions like the Ivy League and Seven Sisters schools, and certainly not from the government.

Huffington Post is a consistent cheerleader for the sexual revolution. They have a whole page devoted to divorce. They have a regular Friday feature called “Blended Family Friday,” in which “we spotlight a stepfamily to learn how they’ve worked to bring their two families together. Our hope is that by telling their stories, we’ll bring you closer to blended family bliss in your own life!” And they are enlisting twenty-somethings to sell their propaganda.

I wonder how many of the young ladies seated at that Huff Po editors meeting have ever heard of abortion regret or considered the topic worthy of their attention? I wonder how many of them believe that hooking up is harmless, as long as you use a condom. I wonder how many of them have ever heard that hormonal contraception – especially implants and vaginal rings – increase the risk of strokes and heart attacks.

I wonder if any of them wish for a guy who would dote on them, and act like he really truly cares. I wonder if they have ever chided themselves for being too clingy when a relationship ended, without realizing that bonding to your sex partner is perfectly normal.

I wonder how many of them realize how unlikely childbirth after 40 really is? A recent study of IVF in Australia looked at the chance of a live birth for initiated cycles. Don’t look at the bogus “pregnancy rate:” IVF pregnancies are 4-5 times more likely to end in stillbirth. And don’t be taken in by the “pregnancy per embryo transfer.” Plenty of women initiate cycles but do not successfully make it to the embryo transfer stage.

The average Australian woman aged 41-42 years old had a 5.8 percent chance of having a live birth per initiated cycle. And women over 45 have a 1.1 per cent chance of having a live birth per initiated cycle — which is almost a 99 percent chance of failure every time.

Yes, Huffington Post is an opinion-making and opinion-leading organization. And yes, it is not right for a bunch of white, privileged childless twenty-something women to be having such an outsized influence on public opinion. But for now, let’s give a thought to these young ladies themselves. They are being sold a bill of goods. It is up to us, as adults, to warn them.



Whose fault was no-fault divorce?

by Ryan C. MacPherson, a Ruth Institute Circle of Experts member

This article was first published at on May 9, 2016.

When language aficionado Bo Mitchell judged 461 entries for the “Great Oxymoron Contest” in 1983, he ranked “wedded bliss” in third place. In fourteenth place came “happily married.” Mitchell distinguished two kinds of oxymorons: “linguistic oxymorons, which contain two words with opposite or conflicting meanings” (such as, “Positively no!” or “pretty ugly”) and “sociological oxymorons, which wryly comment on various stereotypes” (such as “military intelligence” or “honest politician”).

A generation earlier, it is doubtful that Americans would so readily have considered “wedded bliss” or “happily married” as sociological oxymorons; those sentiments had been sincere, not self-contradictory, in the 1950s. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, however, a momentous series of events transformed the public rapport of marriage dramatically: the institution no longer would be associated with lifelong happiness, except in jest. What harought about this change in expectations? Much of the answer may be discovered by unpacking the history behind another oxymoron that Mitchell placed near the top of his list: “no-fault divorce.”


Prior to the California Family Law Act of 1969, divorce across the fifty states required an adversarial procedure. A plaintiff filed for divorce, alleging specific faults by the other spouse, who was named as the defendant. The clerk called the case Doe v. Doe, indicating one spouse “versus” the other. Only upon evidence of statutory grounds for fault—such as adultery, desertion, or cruelty—did the court decide in favor of the plaintiff and grant a decree of divorce.

As other states followed California’s lead through the 1970s, fault vanished from the proceedings, and so did the other contextual clues as to the real meaning of “divorce”: the plaintiff became a petitioner, the defendant became a respondent, the case was renamed In re Doe, the venue shifted to the newly established and purportedly user-friendly “family court,” and no one alleged anyone else to be at fault. In fact, even that old-fashioned, pejorative term “divorce” yielded to the matter-of-fact neologism “dissolution of marriage,” devoid of any moral significance. This “dissolution revolution” never quite finished its course, however. Instead, the term “no-fault divorce” acquired colloquial acceptance, testifying by its very terminology that without constant reminding to the contrary, people would never believe that divorce could be legitimate apart from fault.

Although California’s new law marked the beginning of the no-fault revolution in the United States, the legislative deconstruction of marriage recently had occurred halfway across the globe, in a political climate quite distinct from the American scene. The Soviet Union pioneered no-fault divorce at the height of the Cold War; how ironic it was that the United States followed soon after. Why would the champion of western democracy adopt a public policy so dissimilar from its own heritage and so congruous with Soviet social engineering?

It turns out that no-fault received support from more than one segment of American society. Radical leftists, liberal theologians, and progressive lawyers each urged a loosening of the marital bond for their own peculiar reasons. Once the movement gathered momentum, even prominent moral conservatives gave up trying to stop it. Along the way, scholars occasionally paused to evaluate the impact of no-fault reform; often research revealed a gap between intentions and consequences, or showcased uncertainties as to the actual legacies of the new legislation, but not until the 1990s did mainstream scholars call for a return to the formerly unquestionable presumption that marital permanency serves the best interests of men, women, and children, and of the society that they together constitute.

By that time, too, a few traditionalists began re-inserting “fault” into the statutory procedures for divorce, but to gain acceptance they had to offer fault-based divorce as merely an optional rider on the otherwise unilaterally dissoluble marriage contract. The “no-fault” slogan already had been repeated for four decades, long enough to ring timelessly true in the national psyche.

Russian Roulette: The Gamble of Soviet Social Engineering

If no-fault divorce is the answer, then what was the question? In the case of the Soviet Union, the question centered on a need to correct the excesses of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, which had sought to annihilate marriage as a formal institution. In tsarist Russia, the Orthodox Church had permitted divorce only rarely, and on narrow grounds of fault. The situation changed when Tsar Nicholas II was deposed in 1917. Extending the critique by Marx and Engels that marriage was a bourgeois arrangement by which men “owned” the rights to the productive and reproductive labor of women, Vladimir Lenin decreed that individuals be free to divorce without cause, without mutual consent, and even without informing the other spouse. In effect, marriage lost whatever had distinguished it from cohabitation. In 1918, divorces outnumbered civil marriages five to one in Moscow.

Writing for The Atlantic in 1926, an anonymous woman in Russia described the scene: “Peasant boys looked upon marriage as an exciting game and changed wives with the change of seasons.” The state paid for abortions, even as the number of vagrant homeless children abounded. Continued the Russian woman,“Among the general population and especially among the peasants there is a keen realization of the difficulties, material and otherwise, which have come up as a result of a too literal adoption of the ‘free love’ slogan.”

By the 1930s, Soviet leaders realized that the children of the new, post-marital generation lacked the kind of socializing experiences that would prepare them for successful adult life; neither schools nor other public institutions could fill the gap where the family once had nurtured the young. A legal reform in 1944 introduced marital breakdown as a prerequisite for divorce, requiring the court to weigh evidence of such breakdown. Unlike in the United States, Soviet law had never enumerated “faults” constituting grounds for divorce. Rather, as the U.S.S.R. Supreme Court ruled in 1949, divorce was granted when “continuation of the marriage clashes with the principles of communist morality and creates abnormal conditions for family life and the upbringing of children.”

In practice, this often meant that spousal incompatibility could suffice for divorce between a recently married couple with no children, but that an established couple with children would be obliged to remain married in service to the state. By reinstating marriage as a distinct category from cohabitation, the 1944 decree also reintroduced the bourgeois category of “illegitimate” children. In 1968, the pendulum oscillated once more, this time to re-legitimize all children while also expediting divorces for couples who had no children or who could mutually agree to a plan for the children’s welfare following the termination of their marriage.

Properly speaking, the Soviet Union never had adopted “fault” divorce, but rather embarked upon an experiment that initially eliminated marriage as both an ecclesiastical and a civil institution and later elevated the voluntary cohabitation of two adults back to something resembling marriage—or at least resembling the kind of marriage that would become typical in the United States during the final three decades of the century: a mutual union of two persons with the option of unilateral dissolution, subject to a few limitations for the sake of protecting the weaker spouse and the children from extreme consequences.

It is doubtful that the Soviet reforms directly influenced American policy making. True, radical leftists such as Margaret Sanger had, in Marxist terms, also lambasted marriage as male capitalistic sexual slavery over women, but this view did not receive significant support in the United States; she instead learned to attack not marriage, but rather Catholicism, in order to achieve Protestant support for birth control.

As for divorce, the Soviet Union and the United States arrived at a similar center point from opposite extremes. The Soviets were retracing their steps from marital disestablishment toward the codification of marriage in an effort to stabilize the social order. When American legislatures adopted no-fault, they did so in response to a different question than the Soviets had been asking; only coincidentally did the Americans arrive at a similar answer. Moreover, whereas the Soviet government forced the church to surrender its regulation of marriage, the American states already had full legal authority over marriage plus reassurance from religious leaders that the time had come for no-fault reform.

Liberal Theologians: Moving Ahead of the Legal (and Theological) Curve

In terms of American religion, the history of no-fault divorce proceeded in three stages. Early in the twentieth century, liberals and conservatives broadly agreed that divorce required fault and that remarriage was even less permissible than divorce. By mid-century, liberal theologians broadened the set of faults that justified divorce, with a few voices even calling for no-fault divorce prior to legislative enactment. Finally, in the closing decades of the century, liberals and conservatives again approached a consensus, this time to ratify the new norm of no-fault divorce.

The transition between the first two stages may be seen readily in the history of the United Lutheran Church of America (ULCA), which formed during 1917–1918 from a liberal merger—that is, several church bodies agreed to disagree about how best to address the age-old debate between Calvinist predestination and Arminian free will. As to marriage and divorce, however, the ULCA retained a conservative stance, declaring in 1930: “In general, therefore, all divorce is to be condemned, and, whenever possible, avoided.” The 1930 convention urged that as pastors instruct their congregations, they should “seek to maintain among them a Christian conscience on divorce.” Both that year and again in 1936, the church prohibited pastors from solemnizing the second marriage of a divorced person, “unless he [the pastor] is convinced that the individual is the innocent party.”

By 1956, the liberal tendencies within the ULCA had begun to show themselves regarding the question of divorce. The national convention now agreed that “Christian love and concern for the welfare of all involved” might at times make reconciliation inadvisable. Remarriage, rather than being permitted only to the innocent party, now could proceed for either party upon receiving sufficient pastoral counsel and displaying “evidence of his [or her] Christian faith.”The 1956 position statement even called for “uniform and constructive marriage and divorce laws” that would avoid “adversary litigation” and permit a smoother “adjustment” once a civil dissolution of marriage seems inevitable.

In 1962, the United Lutheran Church of America merged with several other Lutheran bodies to form the Lutheran Church in America (LCA). Two years later, this new body adopted language identical to the 1956 ULCA statement, calling for a less adversarial approach to the civil dissolution of marriages. In 1967, a committee of the LCA, seeking to “stimulate thought and discussion,” dared to envision divorce without fault-finding:

"Divorce proceedings pit two people against each other as adversaries, each having to destroy the other person in order to resolve a problem. The present divorce proceedings, which make one party innocent and the other guilty, are at variance with the insights of Christian ethics."

By 1970, the LCA was ready to take official action; the convention adopted the position that divorce was not intrinsically sinful and at times may even be morally superior to the preservation of a marriage:

"To identify the legal action of divorce as sinful by itself obscures the fact that the marital relationship has already been mutually undermined by thoughts, words, and actions. Although divorce often brings anguish to those concerned, there may be situations in which securing a divorce is more responsible than staying together."

The LCA had completely reversed the statements of its predecessor body, the ULCA, from the 1930s: in certain circumstances, divorce would not only be tolerated, but actually preferred, and those circumstances need not involve the assignment of moral fault.

Chronologically, the LCA’s reconstruction of divorce from a rarely permissible and always fault-based termination of marriage to a faultless happenstance coincided roughly with the deliberations of the California Commission on the Family. Under advice from that commission, the California Assembly enacted no-fault reform in 1969, with most states following suit in the 1970s.

By 1982, a more moderate church body, the American Lutheran Church (ALC), similarly adopted a policy statement permitting divorce without demonstration of specific fault. Now contemplations of divorce could proceed on the shared recognition that “each party generally bears some responsibility.” With pastoral guidance, the parties would recognize that “a responsible choice” favors “the lesser of several evils in a fallen world,” a formula allowing for divorce.

In 1987, the ALC joined with the LCA and a third association of Lutheran congregations to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). In 2009, that body adopted a social statement concerning human sexuality. Although expressing an aspiration for marriage to be “lifelong” and “monogamous,” the resolution avoided any negative judgment concerning adultery or desertion and extended to all persons the “freedom” to marry someone new. In the drafting of this document, a proposed amendment to define marriage as a “lifelong, normative covenant” received significant support but fell short of the required majority. By that time, of course, many parishioners had already inherited the legacy of legal reforms that had excised fault from the statutory definition of divorce.

Progressive Lawyers: Charting Efficient Paths to Individual Liberty

Proponents of divorce reform in California ostensibly hoped to slow the rising divorce rate, eliminate hypocrisy in charges of fault, render court proceedings less confrontational, and foster more equitable outcomes for spouses. Following legislative hearings in 1964, Governor Edmund G. Brown assembled a Commission on the Family in 1966 to suggest revisions to marriage laws and to explore the establishment of family courts for handling divorce cases. Building upon the state supreme court’s ruling in DeBurgh v. DeBurgh (1952), which overturned the long-standing principle that only an innocent party may file for divorce, the commission began to push fault aside, both as a grounds for divorce and as a basis for determining alimony. Recommendations from the commission provided models for several legislative proposals in the late 1960s.

By 1969, the assembly had settled upon a new Family Law Act based largely upon the work of Assemblyman James A. Hayne. The act sanitized the language of divorce (which became “dissolution of marriage”) and established fairness rather than fault as the standard for determining “support” (what once had been alimony). Because the legislature emphasized its desire to reduce adversity and foster amicable negotiations in the new family courts, likely opponents to no-fault divorce—such as Roman Catholics—became supporters of what they perceived to be mild reform, not a fundamental revolution.

California’s no-fault law had both an ideological and a personal connection to the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act promulgated jointly by the American Bar Association (ABA) and the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL) in 1974. Herma Hill Kay, a law professor at the University of California who had served on the governor’s commission, worked as a co-reporter with Robert J. Levy, of the University of Minnesota, on the UMDA. Kay was not shy to advocate for a cause she believed in. As a school child in South Carolina, she had boldly stood alone in challenging her classmates’ consensus that “The South Should Have Won the Civil War.” Stunned, her teacher suggested law school. Kay’s subsequent legal career represented a steady crusade for women’s equality. Kay’s own support for no-fault divorce must be interpreted in this light, even if, as she acknowledged, the state assembly had not prioritized gender equality when enacting the bill she helped to draft.The governor’s commission, however, had at her urging explored equitable results for property distribution and child custody, and subsequent to the 1969 act Kay herself continued to push for reforms that would shift financial rewards from men toward women.

First, however, Kay and Levy had to produce a uniform divorce law that both the ABA and the NCCUSL would accept. The two organizations became gridlocked during the early 1970s over the definition of “irretrievably broken,” which was to be the sole criterion by which a court would determine that a dissolution of marriage should be granted. The NCCUSL preferred to leave the term undefined, allowing for judicial discretion. The ABA’s Family Law Section, by contrast, proposed that a demonstration of either physical separation of one year or else serious marital misconduct must substantiate that a marriage was irretrievably broken; these criteria effectively would have re-introduced fault as grounds for divorce. Levy himself attributed the ABA’s meddling to jealous rivalry: the ABA was trying to take ownership of the NCCUSL’s proposal by modifying it. In any case, the two parties had heated debates and then suddenly reconciled their views concerning divorce, apparently due to the practical necessity of establishing a united front if their reform initiative was to win over state legislatures in the years to come.

By 1980, thirty-seven of the fifty states had significantly altered their divorce laws toward the no-fault standard of California and the UMDA. While some states permitted both fault and no-fault to operate side by side, the trend clearly was following the path of least resistance.

Cautious Constituency-Builders: The Reluctance of the Religious Right to Address No-Fault Wrongs

No-fault reform has retained its status as the law of the land in part because it derives its justification from both sides of the political spectrum. Even if initially engineered by aloof lawyers and judges, not grass-roots partisan reformers, no-fault divorce has strong champions on both the political left and right. Remarkably, the no-fault revolution of the 1970s and 1980s enjoyed bipartisan support despite an undercurrent of disagreement that fomented into a culture war during the 1990s, casting conservatives and liberals into a fierce debate over other moral and social issues—but generally not concerning divorce.

In California, Republicans united with Democrats in supporting no-fault divorce. A leading sponsor of the bill was Republican state senator Donald Grunsky, known as a “prominent conservative.” The law was signed by Governor Ronald Reagan, a conservative Republican who had risen to national attention for his endorsement of Barry Goldwater at the 1964 Republican National Convention. Ironically, Goldwater made a name for himself as a militant anti-communist, and yet Reagan’s signature brought California into line with Soviet marriage reforms. Also ironic, Reagan, himself divorced and remarried, would be swept into the U.S. presidency in 1980 by a coalition of religious traditionalists known as the “Moral Majority.”

Founded by the television evangelist Jerry Falwell in 1979, the Moral Majority listed as third among its founding principles that “We are pro-traditional family.” Translated into action, this statement meant campaigning against abortion, pornography, homosexuality, and the Equal Rights Amendment, while seeking to restore school prayer. Strangely, the Moral Majority was virtually silent about divorce. Standard histories of Falwell’s movement do not even list “divorce” in the index.

In 1988, Pat Robertson, another television evangelist, campaigned for the Republican presidential nomination under a banner of “traditional family values.” Although his candidacy failed to secure the endorsement of his party, his followers reorganized themselves around the Christian Coalition, a nonprofit organization established in 1989. The Coalition advocated for public displays of the Ten Commandments, opposed obscene works funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, attacked Darwinism, and implicated abortion and homosexuality with the decline of American society. As with the Moral Majority, however, the Christian Coalition seldom addressed divorce.

These are but a few of the pro-life, pro-family organizations that touted the benefits of marriage but barely mentioned divorce. The fact that the divorce rate is higher in “red states” than in “blue states” may have something to do with the inability of conservative organizations (both political and religious) to gain traction for the repeal of no-fault divorce. If not crusaders for it, conservatives at least have become complicit in accepting no-fault; it is increasingly difficult to distinguish which side conservatives favor in what remains of the debate. Pat Robertson, for example, suggested in 2011 to 700 Club viewers that the spouse of someone with Alzheimer’s disease may seek a divorce. He reasoned that severe mental illness is “a kind of death,” thus satisfying the marital vow “until death do us part.”

No-Fault Reform in Hindsight: Did Marriages Now End More Smoothly?

When the New York Times published a ten-year retrospective on California’s no-fault divorce law in 1979, a few supportive voices were quoted, followed by numerous critics. The American Bar Association’s Doris Jonas Freed claimed “no-fault divorce has helped everybody,” but others concluded that men, women, and children each had suffered harm.

“Women were better off under the adversary system, because they used to get the home, furniture, and car,” explained Professor Karen Seal of Grossmont College, El Cajon, California. “For older women,” added Trish Somers, of the Older Women’s League, “no-fault divorce has been a disaster,” since it leaves them without either husband or alimony in a competitive career environment for which a long-time homemaker is ill prepared. The Displaced Homemaker Center in Oakland was attempting to fill the need for divorcées, while Fathers Demanding Equal Justice in Los Angeles advocated for dads who had lost custody of their children.

A study of over 4,000 California divorce cases revealed that “men got custody in only 7 percent”—almost always in those rare instances in which women voluntarily forfeited the children.

In 1983, U.S. News and World Report noted that one marriage was dissolved in America every twenty-seven seconds—totaling one million per year, twice the number from two decades prior. According to Sanford Katz, a Boston College law professor, divorce litigation comprised nearly half of all civil filings in the nation, often “as complicated as commercial and corporate cases.” Judge Rex Sater of Santa Rosa, California, observed that “under no-fault divorce people can’t vent their hurts in court. Instead, they fight over junk.” Questions of child custody, who gets the dog, and how to measure the “good will” value that a wife contributed to her husband’s law firm while working as secretary began leading to such acrimonious disputes that some judges ordered an “investigative accountant” to determine who acquired what while they were together, as a prelude to deciding who should be entitled to what when they split.

Compromises such as joint custody of children presented the appearance of simplicity, but in practice these arrangements involved countless disputes over the details each time a child transitioned between the parents’ split homes. One California judge even awarded a couple joint custody of their pet cockapoo—an exceptional instance that nonetheless bore testimony to the depravity of the new normality. In St. Louis, it was a fierce parental dispute over child custody rather than a pet that prompted four kids to hire their own lawyer against both mom and dad. Of course, not all cases of the early 1980s involved so much commotion; with over 200 divorce cases per judge in Detroit, and judicial delays pushing from months into years, many couples desiring to “call it quits” were opting for streamlined mediation—an approach that proved to be faster, though not always less expensive.

Social science scholarship reinforced the reports of the popular press: no-fault divorce may have eliminated fraudulent charges of fault, but it had not improved the lot of divorced persons. Research concerning California “consistently” demonstrated that “divorcing mothers are faring more poorly under the no-fault system.” Absent the “moral leverage of fault,” women had little negotiating power left when suing for alimony.

On a more theoretical level, no-fault reforms had disturbed the old calculus by which self-interested parties were channeled into behavioral choices that served the common good; under the new regime, self-interest led toward self-destruction, both for individuals and for the community. Under the no-fault regime, “the benefits to the party ending the relationship may be less than the costs of dissolution to the party wishing to maintain the union, and yet the dissolution will occur.” Unilateral divorce, by tipping the scales in favor of the party suing for severance, had disrupted the forces of the marriage market in favor of dissolution, even when such an outcome would be economically inefficient by rational models of analysis.

The inevitable results of no-fault divorce, yoked tightly together, were a rise in the economic disparity between marital and divorced households and a rise in the divorce rate.That being said, some studies suggested no-fault reforms have had no appreciable impact upon divorce rates. Other researchers, however, concluded that “more divorces occur in a regime of no-fault divorce”—23% more by one projection. Studies failing to detect a correlation between no-fault reform and higher incidences of divorce had, according to this account, failed to adequately define terms, to employ “controls” for comparison, or to consider short-term and long-term impacts separately.

Amid a diversity of statutory definitions and judicial practices, it was particularly difficult for researchers to separate states into fault versus no-fault, and to identify the effective dates by which a state moved from one category to another. As the century drew to a close, other researchers suggested that both the adoption of no-fault reform and the rise in divorce rates (some of which preceded the adoption of no-fault) share a common cultural source, rather than the former causing the latter.

In 1987, the chief architect of California’s new family court edifice, Herma Hill Kay, published a retrospective appraisal that attempted to salvage the reputation of no-fault divorce. Acknowledging current scholarship that identified “women in ‘traditional’ marriages” as the most injured “victims of the no-fault revolution,” she called for further reform rather than faulting no-fault. As a remedy, Kay proposed that divorcing homemakers should receive credit for the “investment in human capital” that they have made by empowering, through fulfillment of domestic responsibilities, the husband to pursue higher education and work his way up the career ladder.

Against evidence of the short-term economic devastation suffered especially by women following no-fault divorce, Kay suggested that in the long term women “are more likely to experience an improved quality of life following divorce than are men.” Even so, the bald facts remain undeniable: “Women and children have borne the brunt of the transition that took place in California’s legal regulation of the family between 1970 and 1987.” Rather than considering repeal, or even a partial retraction, of no-fault, Kay instead wrote encouragingly of California’s 1987 reform that rendered nonmarital cohabitation a legally sanctioned alternative to marriage.

Four years after Kay’s reappraisal, Robert J. Levy, who spearheaded the crafting of the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act, offered his own evaluation of the path paved by no-fault reform. Like Kay, Levy acknowledged that “many women, especially homemakers, have paid a price for changes in the social acceptability of divorce.” He also admitted to a “vast increase in the amount of litigation and, consequently, in attorneys’ fees.” However, Levy concluded that on balance the UMDA had made “the divorce process considerably more honest” and helped to focus attention on “the right issues”—property distribution and child custody—rather than allegations of fault.Proponents of no-fault had promised that the reform would simplify and streamline divorce proceedings. By the 1990s, the track record of twenty-some years showed otherwise, as both Kay and Levy admitted: the allegations had simply shifted from past wrongdoings (adultery, desertion, or cruelty) to current wrongdoings (fraudulent disclosures of earnings and assets, failure to comply with visitation agreements, and the list went on).

By the turn of the century, evidence had accumulated that neither women nor men were bearing the brunt of divorce; rather, their children suffered most of all. Children desperately need fathers, concluded Professor David Popenoe of Rutgers University, and not just any fathers—married fathers, specifically. Marriage involves putting children’s needs ahead of adults’ wants; divorce does the opposite, with devastating impacts upon all three parties, discovered Popenoe’s colleague Barbara Dafoe Whitehead. From 1997 to 2009, Popenoe directed the National Marriage Project, which subsequently relocated to the University of Virginia under the directorship of sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox. A steady flow of research reports from this institute consistently has identified the risks that divorce, as well as cohabitation, impose upon children and adults alike.

In the third decade of the no-fault regime, scholars also realized that children do not so readily “outgrow” the negative impacts of their parents’ divorce. After initially interviewing children of divorce in the early 1970s, psychologist Judith Wallerstein conducted a follow-up study in the 1990s. She discovered that as children of divorce transitioned into adulthood, they suffered insecurity, with their anxieties soon being confirmed by an inability to form stable relationships of their own. Not until their mid-thirties, and now often embarking on a second marriage, did typical children of divorce begin to achieve a semblance of psychosocial stability; many others never married at all.

In 2012, a conference synthesizing the work of economists, historians, psychologists, sociologists, and theologians revealed that adult children of divorce struggle in myriad ways, as the broken promises of their parents leave them hesitant to trust and unable to become trustworthy for their own marriages. The previous year, scholars at Pennsylvania State University concluded that the so-called “good divorce”—one involving minimal conflict observed by the children and maximal cooperation by parents for post-divorce childrearing—often fails to protect children from the harms associated with more acrimonious instances of marital dissolution. (Is research really necessary to reveal that children can see straight through the cliché, “Your father and I just don’t love each other anymore, but don’t worry, we will always love you”?)

Despite mounting evidence that divorce harms children, while also imposing economic and psychological burdens upon men and women, Herma Hill Kay persisted at the dawn of the new century in celebrating the no-fault revolution yet again. Specifically, she credited divorce reform and related measures with the empowerment of women to assert their own identities and to exercise greater control over their own bodies (through abortion rights secured by Roe v. Wadeand its progeny; Kay avoided mention of an aborting woman’s destructive control over the unborn child’s body, although she did lament that “our culture identifies mothers, rather than fathers, as the primary caretakers of infants and pre-school aged children”).

Looking toward the future, Kay applauded the American Law Institute for its latest work-in-progress, Principles of Family Dissolution, which further blurred the boundary between cohabitation and marriage while also sponsoring same-sex divorce (even for same-sex couples who were merely cohabiting, prior to the legalization of same-sex “marriage”). “The ALI Principles,” wrote Kay, “will have a positive effect on the way we think about marriage by providing a legal framework that enables couples to design their family relationships to suit their individual aspirations as they evolve over time.” Marriage, for Kay, was not a covenant by which two persons join as one, but a “common project” by which two autonomous adults “seek to enjoy intimacy” without any presumption for permanency.

If demography determines truth, then Kay’s position cannot be challenged. Divorce and remarriage now are ubiquitous in America. Divorce is perhaps the one thing all Americans, regardless of politics or theology, have in common—in the extended family if not in the immediate family. Increasingly, cohabitation also defines the American social structure while married-for-life adults and the children of married-for-life adults have become minorities. Men and women aged twenty to twenty-four are more likely to be cohabiting than to be married, and fewer than half of all men aged twenty-five to forty-four are married to their first wife.

Consider, also, the perspective of the children whom these adults raise—or abandon. Even during ages nine through eleven, when children are most likely to have both parents living with them and married to each other, fewer than two thirds of all children experience such a family. Over half of all children will experience part of their childhood being raised with at least one biological parent absent—seldom from death, usually from divorce, and increasingly from cohabitation followed by unofficial divorce. The natural family has become a minority status.

It is no wonder that pastors shy away from preaching against divorce in the pulpit or teaching about it in Bible classes. Even pastors who personally desire to promote reconciliation rather than divorce realize that many of their parishioners have already decided differently. Many more have relatives whose lives have been entangled by a web of divorces and remarriages, often with a fair mix of cohabitation, too. The children of divorce populate youth groups.

All of these factors can lead pastors to ask themselves, how is it even possible to broach the issue without offending someone? They therefore hesitate, and then choose silence. As long as many can remember, this has always been the case. As early as 1988, half the staff directors appointed to the Lutheran Layman’s League—an affiliate of the conservative Lutheran Church Missouri Synod—were “divorced and remarried,” a fact which its board dismissed as irrelevant to their work as Christian mentors. The “no fault” message has successfully removed the stigma from marital dissolution.

* * *

Where does the American family find itself after nearly fifty years of no-fault divorce—that legal enshrinement of individual adult autonomy, of unilateral decision-making that imposes itself upon the other spouse and the children? Research is just now beginning to reveal how the tragedies of divorce persist into the third generation—as the impact of no-fault reform passes now to the grandchildren of those who first sowed its seed in the 1960s and 1970s. For example, “Kids’ Divorce Stories,” on the Marriage Ecosystem website sponsored by the Ruth Institute, collects first-hand accounts from the rising generation as they reflect upon the choices of their parents, who in turn inherited the new divorce culture ushered in by no-fault reforms.

By listening to these voices, young men and women now have the opportunity to evaluate the decisions of those who have traveled the road before them—decisions by conservatives and liberals alike, by lawyers and theologians, by specialists and laypeople, by a broad spectrum of Americans who by either action or acquiescence participated in the no-fault revolution.

Prudence demands a better path. If today’s young people can be equipped with tools for forgiveness and reconciliation, then their collective actions may be able to remove “wedded bliss” from a list of oxymorons and restore it as the cornerstone of both civilized society and genuine personal fulfillment. To accomplish this, however, the rising generation will require mentoring from the minority of natural families who still remain and encouragement from another minority group: fractured families who have reunited to become whole with one another again.

Ryan C. MacPherson, Ph.D., is author of Rediscovering the American Republic (2 vols.) and Senior Editor of The Family in America. He serves as chair of the History Department at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, Minnesota. This article is republished with permission from The Family in America, the Journal of the Howard Centre for Family, Religion & Society.

Read the orginal article with footnotes.


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