Confronting the More Entrenched Foe:

The Disaster of No-Fault Divorce and Its Legacy of Cohabitation When Ronald Reagan signed the nation’s first No-Fault Divorce legis-lation as governor of California in 1969, little did he suspect that this policy innovation would lead not only to a dramatic increase in divorce rates but also a consequent plunge in marriage rates and a soaring incidence of cohabitation apart from marriage. Although Reagan later told his son Michael that imposing No-Fault Divorce on the Golden State was “one of the worst mistakes he ever made in public office,”[1] the damage was already done. All but five states adopted the California innovation in the early 1970s, an innovation pushed primarily by legal scholars and divorce lawyers but with the support of feminists. Religious leaders remained strangely silent. But as the charts below illustrate, marriage indicators would never be the same. While the number of divorces in America increased 80 percent in the 1960s, they would soar another 86 percent between 1969 and 1980, rising from 639,000 to 1,189,000. There have been more than a million divorces every year since 1975. Put another way, for every two marriages established since 1975, about one existing marriage was dissolved. Meanwhile, the number of marriages fell from 2.44 million in 1990 to 2.08 million in 2009, even as the nation grew by 60 million people. As Chart 2 indicates, that decline represents a plunge in the marriage rate of 31 percent in just nineteen years, or 53 percent since 1970. Yet the divorce rate, which peaked at 22.6 divorces per 1,000 married women in 1980, remains stubbornly high. In relation to the marriage rate, the divorce rate has climbed steadily, as Chart 3 demonstrates. In fact, America’s divorce rate may be the highest in the developed world. According to Andrew Cherlin, the noted sociologist, the U.S. divorce rate is triple that of Great Britain and France. After five years of marriage, 23 percent of American couples have divorced co
Please subscribe or log in to read the rest of this content.