Friday, March 1, 2013

“So why wouldn’t someone support this?

“So why wouldn’t someone support this?
As I sat behind the rail in the House chambers waiting for the floor discussion and vote on HB 1423, a statewide elected official sat down beside me, in fact a rather high ranking official.  “How do you think this will go”, was asked.  “Hoping and praying, but we’ll see”, was my reply.  I was thinking about our earlier discussion on the bill and the question was, “well, so why wouldn’t someone support this”?

About 10 minutes later the answer appeared on the big board, 48 votes no and 45 votes yes.  The measure failed.  A bill to include a component in the divorce process when minor children were involved—requiring an educational program focusing on how the divorce will affect the children and future finances—failed.

Why?  Well, during floor discussion and committee testimony, we heard this is a private matter and the government should stay out of ‘our bedrooms and private lives’.  Like it or not, the government has a vested interest, witnessed by many pages of ND Century Code law on marriage licensing, divorce decrees, child custody, and other related matters. 

So what other reasons might there be?  Well, the couple has already made up their mind and this would be a hardship on them during an already difficult situation.  The amended bill removed the waiting period and injected the educational material into the existing process.  The hardship to the couple would have been minimal and the potential benefit to the children immense.  Children want and need stability.

We know and believe that couples who marry and have children would never purposely intend to hurt those children.  However, documented research provides evidence of the physical, emotional, and financial effect on most children of divorce.  This effect will be more serious in some cases, less in others, but evident in most, and will last well into adulthood and affect future generations.

More reasons?  Well the system we have in place is doing about as good as can be expected.  The mediation process administered by the courts leads the couple through the difficult process in a civil manner, seeking the best post-divorce outcome possible.  By the courts standards, the system does its job.

But as a people, as a society—should we be satisfied?  As a North Dakota government, promoting the common good for our residents, should we be satisfied?  Should we be satisfied that only about half of the children reaching their 17th birthday will be living with their biological parents?  Should we be satisfied that as high as 50% of parents with children going through a divorce will move into poverty?

Should we be concerned that many of these children will perform more poorly in school, have a greater likelihood of experiencing behavioral and emotional problems, and a greater incidence of abuse?  The government at all levels is tasked with responding to these problems on a daily basis, and at great cost.  In fact our North Dakota legislature will appropriate millions of dollars for public assistance and human service programs. 

In North Dakota we have on average about 4200 marriages per year, with about 1900 divorces per year.  Should we be satisfied that our divorce rate is rather low compared to nationally?  Of those 1900 divorces, should we be satisfied that 900 involve only about 1600 minor children annually?  After all over the course of a dozen years that’s only about the number of people who live in Jamestown.  And the system we have in place is doing about as good as we can expect.  Really?

Should we be concerned that trends suggest children of broken homes will be less educated and have less earning power, be less likely to marry, and have children facing a similar future?  Should we be satisfied that those children from intact homes will be better educated, have a better job with higher pay, will have a much greater likelihood of staying married,  and providing any children of that marriage with a similar future? 

As a society, as a people, are we really saying we can’t do anything about this?  Are we satisfied with the present status?  Have we given up hope?

Our NDFA Marriage Task Force Report identified four venues to promote marriage: a prayer initiative, raising the level of awareness, involving our churches, and a legislative component.  The legislature, the policy making branch of our government, has the ability to set direction.  Not discounting the first three venues, should not the legislature by its actions endorse the positive effect the institution of marriage has on children in specific and on society in general? 

HB 1423 has failed.  But the issue is much larger than just HB 1423.  There will be other opportunities for the legislature to stand for marriage and the family.  I trust they will do so.

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