Stolen Vows

The Illusion of No-Fault Divorce and
The Rise of the American Divorce Industry

 
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As referenced in Chapter 4 of "Stolen Vows"

Transcripts from the annual meetings
(1965 to 1973)
of the
National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws

~ NCCUSL ~
A national lawyers' group that promulgated the "model law" called the

Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act

------------------

This "model law", which included the blueprint for "no-fault" divorce, was promoted as a way to eliminate the rancor of the civil divorce process, whereby one party needed to "accuse" the other party of a serious transgression.

In addition, commissioners complained that too many people were crossing state lines to access easier divorce rules. Officials in some of these divorce-mill states, such as Alabama, looked the other way while criminal divorce rackets operated in plain sight. The divorce-seeker simply had to state under oath that he/she was a "bona fide" resident of Alabama and give a fictitious address. [Some addresses showed up over and over on the public records, and were supplied by the attorney.]

Nevada also accommodated divorce-seekers, viewing their divorce as another tourism-opportunity that would provide an additional revenue-stream alongside the state's other notorious activities. Divorce-seekers could even obtain vacation packages at horse ranches, where they could pass the time with others there for the same reason. They had to stay just long enough to meet the requisite residency requirement of six weeks, which then [according to state law] gave Nevada jurisdiction over their marriages.

Besides the problem of the various divorce mills around the country [which cut into the income-potential of lawyers living in states with stricter laws] the other complaint voiced by divorce reformers was that perjury was commonplace in divorce trials. One partner had to accuse the other of a serious transgression (a fault "ground") in order to petition for a divorce. The basis of this requirement was the contract-nature of marriage: the transgressing party was guilty of a "breach" of the contract and was then "penalized" by the courts. Divorce was offered as a "remedy" to the innocent party.

These were some of the reasons given by the lawyers embarking on this historic project to change the basis of divorce actions, and portraying their efforts as "needed" -- that it would bring a more "enlightened" system.

The movement towards divorce reform in the U.S. was fueled by England's own activity -- the Church of England (which was born out of the divorce of a King) published the Morton Report in 1966, which encouraged a loosening of the country's religious-based divorce laws. Those in the U.S -- who were looking for an opportunity to move their own initiative forward -- used England's efforts as a signal that the time was right.

On a parallel vein, California's move towards reform began in the early '60's and successfully culminated in 1969, with Reagan's signing of the state's landmark Family Law Act. California was the first state to completely replace its fault-based divorce system with no-fault.

The NCCUSL first announced its own intentions to address the divorce law "problem" nationally in 1965, maintaining that "there was a fresh wind blowing throughout the country and the world" [1969 UMDA Transcripts].

Why is this material important?

Up until now, the hundreds of pages of the UMDA debate have only been available on microfiche records. For the past two years, I've dedicated myself to making this material more available, by transcribing the microfiche records onto computer, and then publishing a comprehensive two-volume set, which includes the final approved version of the Act. Only by reading the actual words of those who were involved in this historic project, can we understand what they were doing.

The public's understanding of "no-fault" divorce is fraught with confusion and misunderstanding.

MOST people believe that the change to no-fault was a positive move -- that it reduced rancor in the courtroom by allowing spouses to peacefully and mutually AGREE to a divorce. It was pitched as a way to avoid the drama that, too often, played out in the courtroom.

But, what MOST people do NOT understand, is that no-fault divorce is too often a euphemism for a sinister process of "forced" divorce, whereby the judge can take control of children and property, writing endless court orders, rewarding or punishing either party for non-compliance with the process, and threatening jail for anything considered "contempt of court".

Yes, it is TRUE that some partners can agree mutually to a low-conflict divorce process - that both of them want to divorce. But, research shows that up to 80% of divorces are "forced" on one of the parties [unilateral] and that many of these breakups could be readily prevented if judges would only require some kind of help [skilled counseling, mediation, Retrouvaille, etc.] - help that is systematically denied, even when one party begs for it. Judges place a higher priority on clearing their court dockets and keeping the divorce "conveyor belt" running smoothly.

The UMDA material can educate those who still believe this law-change was done in the "public good".

The UMDA material should be studied along with the record of what took place in California, where the 1969 law-change was essentially a one-man operation, controlled by Republican Assemblyman James A. Hayes, Chair of the Judiciary Committee, who was involved in his own bitter divorce action. At the time he was writing this bill, Hayes was facing "cruelty" charges - one of California's grounds for divorce - filed by his wife, Janne, although no public mention is made of this important detail during the time he was promoting the bill. The Los Angeles Times reported that his wife ended up applying for welfare [they had four children] - a direct result of his self-dealing role in this landmark bill. He later used this law-change as the basis for financial terms that worked in his favor.

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