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The Forever Initiative: A Feasible Public Policy Agenda to Help Couples Form and Sustain Healthy Marriages and Relationships
By Alan J Hawkins

My book review

The Forever Initiative cover

TThe failings of America's divorce system are apparent to many, and a few books deal with the problems caused by the break-down of our families. This book is unique in its discussion of relatively practical and realistic ways to fix the problem, by somebody who understands public policy. It is thoroughly researched, and Dr. Hawkins has obviously had a lot of experience in this field.

Dr. Hawkin's proposals have a few parts, some of them similar to my website: Marriage preparation (Marriage Relationship Education), Marriage maintenance education, and Divorce orientation education. After discussing the scope of the problem and a short history of previous efforts, he has an important section to refute the logic of common criticisms of government efforts to support marriage. It is not hopeless, it is not a waste of taxpayer dollars, it is not government “interference in people's private lives”, and it is a legitimate social concern.

On page 98, Dr. Hawkins raised the same comparison that I had thought of, of the parallels between tobacco reforms since the 1960s and divorce reform today. America could and did gradually pass laws to reduce smoking and improve public health since the 1960s despite considerable resistance, and we can pass laws to gradually reduce divorce and strength marriage now.

I like the section on Relationship Literacy Education for youth. This is something that we tried – unsuccessfully – in my own faith community, as we renamed our metro-area “Divorce Task Force” to “Marriage Task Force” then to “Relationships and Marriage Task Force”.. As Dr. Hawkins very correctly points out, youth need to have a more correct and realistic view of what marriage is and what it is not. Too many people have a wrong idea that cohabitation is a good test for marriage, despite the fact that it is thoroughly inconsistent with social science research. The discussion of exactly what topics should be covered and how to deliver it is very well thought out.

However, I'd like to differ with a point that he raises on page 139. He says that young people often cohabit rather than marrying for fear of divorce. He says “So the cultural fear of divorce is, to some extent, misplaced. What we need is a healthy desire to avoid family instability”. Not true. Divorce involves a property settlement and perhaps alimony, in addition to all the issues that cohabiting couple and their children would face upon breaking up. So a divorce defendant faces financial ruin, in addition to the emotional turmoil that somebody would feel upon breakup of a cohabitation relationship. Unfortunately, the fear of divorce is not misplaced, and is a perfectly valid reason to not get married. But, as we know, cohabitation relationships are not stable environments for raising children. The solution is to support the work being done by organizations such as National Parent's Organization and American Coalition of Fathers and Children to address the excessive amounts of alimony and child support that are often awarded to mothers who file for divorce.

The chapters on Marriage Preparation and Marriage Maintenance are similarly well thought out. Marriage preparation is divided into two forms: for formally engaged couples and for cohabiting couples. His coverage of many existing programs and much research about them is excellent, and is in line with what I was taught in my Prepare/Enrich certification class.

I have found that direct divorce reform is far more controversial than marriage education. Dr. Hawkin's proposal for Divorce Orientation Education is very similar to the draft for Parental Divorce Reduction Act from Coalition for Divorce Reform. As Dr. Hawkins says, co-parenting education – after the divorce is already decided – is widely accepted. In my opinion, “co-parenting education” is little more than brainwashing for No-Fault Divorce, to help the divorcing parent avoid any guilt for what she or he is putting the children through. Co-parenting education encourages more divorce. It is shameful that education which is aimed at reducing divorce is much less common than education that condones and encourages divorce.

A strength of this book is the discussion of funding. Using 1% of federal grants to states for needy families seems like a good idea, as does having the operations done mostly by States. But maybe a little bit of the funding could also come from the large child-support collection bureaucracies of most states. Federal and state budgets are discussed – there should have been discussion of the vast sums of money spent on child-support collection. As Stephen Baskerville pointed out in his book Taken into Custody, excessive child support is in effect providing financial incentives for mothers to get rid of the fathers through unilateral divorce and/or false claims of domestic violence. Child-support collection agencies claim to be working for the good of children. So why can't the states really help children by providing funding to help parents stay together?

Public policies to deter divorce – or at least to stop promoting it – are not discussed at all, and this is probably my biggest criticism of this book. The book has no mention of making child support and alimony more equitable, or of reducing false claims of domestic violence, though these are feasible public policy goals.

Overall, this is a great book which is very much needed. I hope that it gets the attention that it deserves