Savers 'Divorce-Proofing' Couples
CBN News / Feb 11, 2010
KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- In a time when many Americans accept that a 50
percent divorce rate is inevitable, some communities have found ways to
nearly "divorce-proof" the marriages in their area.
One example is the Kansas City metro area. While the divorce rate in
Kansas City, Mo. was going up between 1995 and 2005, just across the
border in smaller Kansas City, Kan., the divorce rate was plunging.
Clergy on the Kansas side believe they know what made the difference.
Pastor Jeff Meyers of Christ Lutheran Church in a Kansas City suburb was
distressed with the devastating effects he was seeing as a result of
marriages falling apart.
"If it fails, it's the pebble in the pond, the waves reverberate out
and go on for generations," he told CBN News.
Research shows children of divorce still feel the pain of the breakup
well into their adult life:
•Their chances of having their own marriages dissolve are doubled.
•Children of divorce are three times as likely to get kicked out of
school or become unwed pregnant teens as are those children in intact
•Their chances of being physically abused are 14 times higher.
•Their chances of living in poverty five times higher.
Where's the Church?
Since some 80 percent of couples get married in a church, Meyers
realized pastors might have more power to strengthen marriages than most
"I thought, 'Where's the church?' This is our issue. This is the
thing we should be dealing with," Meyers said.
That's when Meyers began interacting with Mike and Harriet McManus of
Marriage Savers. The Maryland couple pushes all sorts of methods for
strengthening marriage, including getting as many religious leaders in
an area as possible to band together and sign a Community Marriage
Policy. With that, they pledge not to marry anyone in their houses of
worship unless that couple takes a pre-marital inventory and holds
pre-marriage sessions with a pastor or marriage mentors.
Meyers teamed up with Pastor Leroy Sullivan of the inner-city Bread
of Life Church. The two came from different worlds, but felt the same
urgency about dealing with the divorce crisis, and the failure of most
churches to do so.
"We're so busy talking about 'Let's go to heaven,' we never teach
people how to live on earth," Sullivan said.
"And it's important for pastors and churches to get into their minds
how critical it is to invest in each and every union," Meyers added.
Rate Plunges 70 Percent
Meyers and Sullivan spent months recruiting dozens of other pastors
in the Kansas City, Kan. area in 1996 to sign a Community Marriage
Policy. And over the next 10 years, the town saw an amazing 70 percent
plunge in the divorce rate -- from 650 in 1995, to just 196 in 2005.
Both pastors feel a particularly strong method of strengthening
marriages has been the use of marriage mentors -- especially when it
comes to working with couples who want to marry.
Dave and Rhonda DeFreece are members of Meyers' Lutheran church and
have mentored couples for 14 years.
"You're using your years of experience coupled with some training in
listening skills and communication skills," Dave said.
"The preparation process, lots of times, brings out areas that maybe
they've never discussed before or thought about," Rhonda said.
McManus recruited Patti and Victor Llewellyn to be mentors in
Maryland. They agree it's especially important for couples considering
marriage to get some mentoring.
Patti said mentors can help them answer crucial questions, like,
"Will you have the communication tools to give and take and find out how
you're going to work together?"
"How do we expect them to just pop into a healthy, interacting great
marriage? It's not going to happen. It takes help," Victor added.
These "marriage coaches" can help couples work their way through a
premarital inventory, which can predict with 80 percent accuracy which
couples will likely divorce. That can lead incompatible couples to give
up on getting married before it's too late.
"I know we've had two couples decide not to marry," Patti mentioned.
How to Cut the Divorce Rate in Half
Pastors in more than 220 communities have signed Community Marriage
Policies. But McManus feels it's now time to start pushing secular
authorities as well to do something to strengthen marriages. He's
championing a couple of potent ideas in his new book "How to Cut
America's Divorce Rate in Half."
The U.S. rate is triple that of France and Britain, and McManus
thinks one big reason is because of the waiting periods for a divorce in
"You have to wait five years in one country and six years in the
other to get the divorce. You know what happens in five years? A lot of
reconciliation," he explained.
Meyers pointed out research that shows if those in a failing marriage
would simply wait it out for five years, they'd likely see a big
"Sixty-six percent of those couples will report a stronger, happier,
wholesome marriage if they will just do that," he said.
Some researchers say 86 percent of couples who decide to stall a
divorce for five years end up with happier, enduring marriages after
those five years.
McManus would like to see all state legislatures institute waiting
periods of at least two years before they'll grant a divorce.
No More No-Fault
He's also pushing to get rid of no-fault divorce for couples who have
juvenile children and no history of adultery or abuse. His book
documents that America went from having 639,000 divorces in 1969, the
year of the first no-fault law, to more than a million by 1975. And the
divorce rate has stayed that high since.
"What's called no-fault divorce is really unilateral divorce,"
He wants states to replace no-fault divorce with mutual consent
divorce where both spouses have a say in dissolving a union.
"Here are two reforms, each one of which in many states could cut the
divorce rate in half," he said confidently.
Divorce Costs All Taxpayers
The states could also save a huge amount of taxpayer dollars.
Taxpayers cough up $112 billion a year to pay the huge costs of families
fragmenting, according to the Institute for American Values. McManus
thinks the total might actually be closer to $200 billion a year.
While only one percent of married women are in poverty, 24 percent of
divorced women are.
McManus said of most of that 24 percent: "They're eligible for
Medicaid and food stamps and earned income tax credit and subsidies for
housing and day care and all that."
"That's what costs so much," he explained. "If you could cut the
divorce rate, you'd be doing a great fiscal favor for taxpayers."
"It's a devastating thing. Divorce is within our communities,
families, the lives of our children personally to societally," Meyers
Which is why those in the Marriage Savers movement feel so fiercely
"I really believe that what we're doing is making eternal benefits
for couples down the road," Maryland mentor Llewellyn said.
"Marriage really is the best solution for all the problems we have in
society today," Sullivan said.
Sullivan has only had a couple of divorces in his church since his
fellow pastors banded together in 1996.
As for Meyers' church, "I've had roughly a hundred weddings I've
performed since then," he said. "I've had no divorces."
"If we have a culture promoting marriage, and if our churches begin
to capture the vision that they can be marriage savers, I think we could
drive down this divorce rate nationally in half," McManus said.
*Originally published February 11, 2010.