Two Christian groups oppose no-fault divorce

I was kind of stunned the other day to learn that New York is the only state without a no-fault divorce law.

I guess I would have expected a few states in more traditional parts of the country to be sticklers when it comes to “preserving” marriage.

Two days ago, the NY state Senate voted 32-29 to allow “no-fault” divorce after a marriage has “irretrievably” broken down for at least six months. The Assembly is expected to go along.

Right now, one spouse must allege abandonment, adultery or one of a few other reasons in order to seek a divorce.

The only religious group that I have heard react to the Senate passage is the NYS Catholic Conference, which is predictably opposed to any changes that would make divorce more common.

Executive Director Richard Barnes released this statement:

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The Bishops of New York State are disappointed with the Senate action today. Increasingly, society has come to view marriage as disposable and temporary. However, empirical evidence shows that children of divorce tend to suffer many negative consequences throughout their lives, from lower educational achievement rates to higher rates of substance abuse, criminal behavior and imprisonment.

Clearly, not every marriage can be permanent. But when serious reasons exist, such as abuse, adultery or abandonment, the law provides for quick divorces. In cases where no such grounds are present, so-called “no fault” cases, a couple may divorce following a one-year legal separation. The state has a legitimate interest in such a waiting period, where reconciliation is still a feasible possibility, because of the important place of marriage in society, particularly as it relates to the stable rearing of children.

New York State has one of the lowest divorce rates in the country. While we see that as a cause for state pride, some sadly may see it as a problem to be corrected. We urge the state Assembly to reject this proposal and, failing that, we call on Gov. Paterson to veto it.

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New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, an evangelical lobbying group in Albany, has not released a statement on the Senate vote (that I have been able to find).

But the group does have a position on no-fault divorce, which is basically that we’re better off without it. Their position includes this statement about divorce:

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Any divorce, regardless if it occurred under fault or no-fault laws, is one of life’s most painful experiences. It signifies the failure of a dream—a dream of intimacy, of family, of security, of meaning. The consequences of divorce can therefore be severe, not only economically, but particularly physically, emotionally and psychologically.

It would seem logical, therefore, that with the massive increases in divorce rates, the rate of children involved in divorce, and the social consequences of the divorce epidemic, that the Legislature would be looking for ways to strengthen marriages not make divorces easier to obtain.

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I have not been able to find any statements in favor of no-fault divorce from religious groups.

I checked the website of Interfaith IMPACT of New York, a coalition of leaders from liberal religious traditions, but did not come across any mention of divorce.

Gary Stern

Gary Stern covered education in the Lower Hudson Valley for several years during the early 1990s. Now's he back on the beat. He believes that schools are one of the main reasons that people live around here and that educational issues -- from curriculum to financing -- are among the most challenging things that journalists can write about. He continues to be amazed by the complexity of educational jargon. Gary got his B.A. at SUNY Buffalo and his M.A. from the University of Missouri Journalism School (where his master's thesis was about the best ways to cover education). He lives in White Plains with his wife and two sons, who attend public schools.