I am a co-founder of the Coalition of Fathers and Families NY, Inc. and was its primary lobbyist for many years. I have been following these issues now for 20 years, advocating for families. While we initially focused only on shared parenting and court reform we also developed positions on issues such as unilateral divorce and and gay marriage. As an organization our membership was made up of a broad base of the political spectrum, liberals, conservatives, and libertarians, men, women, parents, grand parents and extended family members who had one unifying experience, they had their rights violated in New York (anti) family and supreme courts.
FaFNY did oppose unilateral divorce and for many years were able to stop this legislation pushed forward by the NYS Bar Association. Our 2004 memo in opposition (following at the end of this piece) to no fault divorce cited the negative consequences of single parent households on children, at the time standing at 24.7 million children growing up without one of their parents (usually the father). We did note that our opposition, child focused and in the interest of the children, could be lifted with “ a corresponding overhaul of family and matrimonial law and statutory protections for children, spouses and/or parents wishing to preserve their marriages and maintain their families intact, and for those parties most likely to become non-custodial parents.”
Regarding the issue of gay marriage we took a neutral stance. FaFNY, at that time, supported marriage as being as being beneficial to children but given the diverse membership who supported everything to all marriages to only traditional marriages, so we didn’t come to a consensus on the issue. The one response that was universal within the organization was, why would you want to get married and subject yourself to these courts? To that end the VP at the time, Randall L. Dickinson, wrote an op ed piece, “Be careful what you ask for…” (which I include at the end of this piece for your enjoyment).
Ultimately no fault divorce passed in New York. But none of the measures put forth that would strengthen parental rights; shared parenting, terminology change from “visitation” to “parenting time”, court restructure and reform, mediation, collaborative law, grand parents rights, alimony reform (called maintenance in NY), nothing, nada, none, not a single piece of reform in New York’s Courts has been enacted.
Even on gay marriage the NYS Legislature kicked the can down the road, following Vermont passing “civil union” reforms first, then recognizing marriages of other states. But on the issue of gay marriage, as in the reform of family and matrimonial law, the most dysfunctional legislature in the nation did nothing. But now SCOTUS has changed all that, marriage between any two consenting adults is the law of the land.
My response to gays, or any other person for that matter, is why would you want to? Why get a state sanctioned marriage license? What are the benefits? And the down side? By saying “I DO” with license from the state you agree to a contract that holds no one responsible. Worse, the contract and case law protects the defaulting party. Even prenuptial agreements are no protection for the parties for they are routinely thrown out by the courts.
And one would expect that gay marriages will lead to children with adoptions, surrogate parenting, artificial insemination and new age techniques bringing children to married gay couples. I can only imagine the field day the mostly incompetent judges will have deciding “custody” under these circumstances. With two married biological parents the best the courts could do was to strip one of their parental rights, relegate them to visitor status with the “standard NY Order” of visiting every other weekend and one mid week 4 hour visit. One can only imagine the violation of individual rights of a parent with no biological connection to their child.
Gays thought they were fighting for a right that other people had and which was denied to them. In their ignorant bliss and fight for individual equality they, as most of us did before we suffered under the injustices of these courts, have entered a system which does not grant nor guarantee an individuals rights but works to plunder their assets, destroy their civil liberties, individually abuse them, and all the while being accountable to no one.
We tried to warn you. But now I say, WELCOME to the family! Perhaps when we have enough individuals and organizations which watch and suffer the abuses of these courts we’ll get large enough to change things.
Mr. James Hays
Be Careful What You Ask For …
By Randall L. Dickinson
The recent Massachusetts Superior Court decision granting gays the right to marry and the highly publicized same-sex marriage ceremonies performed in San Francisco, are only the latest examples of what some are suggesting may become the most important social issue of the upcoming presidential election. As the debate intensifies, those on both sides of the social and political spectrum continue to define their positions on gay marriage, indeed, on the very definition of the institution of marriage itself. While those on the political left, backed by the Democratic Party and aided by the liberal press/media attempt to frame the issue as one of civil rights, conservatives on the right, backed by the Republican Party, promote a more traditional definition of marriage. Indeed, most recently, President Bush, himself, has called for a Constitutional Amendment that would clearly define marriage as being between one man and one woman.
Largely overlooked in all of the sound and the fury, however, is one aspect of the broader issue itself that gays and lesbians might want to ponder before proceeding much further on their quest for the Holy Grail of connubial bliss. Beyond the ideals of “marriage” and “family”, what are the realities associated with each in the late 20th and early 21st centuries; how have they evolved, what are the implications for those wishing to enter into the bonds of matrimony, and what happens when it all ends, and couples no longer wish to remain married.
Changes in state laws beginning in the early 1970’s have given a legal preference to any spouse wishing to leave a marriage, even if the other spouse wants to preserve the marriage and has done nothing to give the deserting spouse “grounds” for a divorce. Such laws have essentially acted to empower whichever party wants out, leaving the spouse who wants to preserve the marriage powerless to prevent its dissolution and with no recourse but acquiescence.
The marriage contract has, thus, been described as having been reduced to little more than a contractual economic partnership devoid of any legal protection. Maggie Gallagher states, in her book The Abolition of Marriage, that it has become “less binding than the average business deal. Marriage is one of the few contracts in which the law explicitly protects the defaulting party at the expense of his or her partner”. If all of our business transactions were conducted in a similar fashion, our national economy would collapse. With the marital contract now worth less than the paper it’s written on, why should we deceive ourselves into thinking that it is not having the same devastating impact on our marriages and our families.
Adding to laws that help facilitate the divorce process are others that drive the decision to initiate it. Research has shown that the single greatest factor in determining
which party is most likely to file for a divorce is the expectation of being awarded custody of the kids. Along with the kids usually comes a whole range of other financial benefits, as well, including child support, alimony, the marital residence, and one half of the remaining marital assets. With most states still adhering to the standard sole custody model, wherein one party receives the kids, while the other is left to pay, it’s not difficult to understand how at least one of them may perceive little or no downside.
The elimination of any need to establish grounds for a divorce was based on the presumption that both parties are equally motivated to end a marriage, and was supposed to make the process less adversarial and more amicable. Today, 50 percent of all first time marriages and 60 percent of all second marriages will end in divorce, 80 percent of them initiated against the wishes and the will of one of the parties. Ooops!
Such public policies as these have been supported by both liberals and conservatives alike. Ironically, many elected representatives, jurists, legal “experts”, and social services “professionals” who advocate for the right of gays to marry, at the same time continue to resist any reasoned consideration of the impact these same policies may be having on the dual institutions of “marriage” and “family” and the trap that may await those who sail blindly into these uncharted waters.
Nor has the institution of the Church been any great help. While continuing to pay lip service to the ideals of strong marriages and healthy families, most churches today appear reluctant to address the issue of divorce for fear of offending their congregations, large portions of which having experienced the phenomenon of divorce either directly or indirectly in some manner. Preferring to go along in order to get along, many churches that haven’t chosen to ignore the elephant in the room altogether, have simply adopted a policy of acceptance. Rather than providing assistance for couples struggling to save their marriages, and admonishing them that the Church will not condone divorce as an option, some churches have, in essence, begun to legitimize divorce by performing so called “New Beginnings” ceremonies designed to help divorcing couples “move on” with their lives. Today the divorce rate among those professing to be Christians and who claim to attend church on a regular basis is higher than it is for the general population overall. Coincidence? Maybe, but it’s difficult not to draw certain inferences.
Before the gay and lesbian community becomes myopic in its passion for the equal right to marry, it might be wise to consider, as well, the need to lobby for the equal right to certain protections under the law following divorce. Matrimonial and Family Law, including those dealing with the custody of children, the “equitable” distribution of marital property, and child support standards are in desperate need of a major overhaul. Without such reforms, rather than embarking on a journey toward nuptial bliss, many gays and lesbians may find that they have unwittingly entered into a Faustian bargain, ending in the inferno of Divorce Hell. The message for gays and lesbians is crystal clear: be careful what you ask for; you might just get it.
Randall L. Dickinson resides and works in the Albany, New York, area and is Vice President of the Coalition of Fathers and Families New York, Inc. The Coalition of Fathers and Families New York, Inc. is a not-for-profit public information, education, and lobbying organization dedicated to the advocacy of family related issues and to preserving the relationship between fathers and their children. Its national affiliate is the American Coalition of Fathers and Children.
The Coalition of Fathers and Families NY, Inc.,
an affiliate of the American Coalition of Fathers and Children,
Date: November 11, 2004
To: Members of the New York State Assembly/Senate and Executive Branch.
From: The Coalition of Fathers and Families New York, Inc.
Re.: Memo in Opposition to No-Fault Divorce
The Coalition of Fathers and Families NY, Inc. is opposed to No-Fault Divorce without a corresponding overhaul of family and matrimonial law and statutory protections for children, spouses and/or parents wishing to preserve their marriages and maintain their families intact, and for those parties most likely to become non-custodial parents.
No-fault divorce is ill advised because:
- No-fault divorce laws have produced a failure rate among all first time marriages of 50 percent, and 60 percent for all second marriages.
- Eighty percent of these divorces are initiated against the will and without the control of one or the other of the parties.
- This rate of family dissolution is responsible, in part, for producing 24.7 million children growing up in the U.S. without at least one of their parents (usually their fathers).
- The devastating impact this is having on children has been extensively documented, is well known, and is widely recognized. Virtually every social and/or behavioral dysfunction and psychological pathology experienced by children and young people today can be directly traced to the absence of at least one of their parents, and 80 percent of all child abuse occurring in single parent households.
However well intentioned the proposal to reduce the cost and stress associated with the divorce process, it is difficult to rationalize how any demographic, except the initiator of divorce, can be said to have benefited from making divorces easier to obtain. More fundamental then is the question of whether or not it is really in the best interest of the State or the Nation to promote divorce in such a manner.
After almost thirty years of experience with no-fault divorce laws it is widely recognized that, in effect, it has given a legal preference to any spouse wishing to leave a marriage, even if the other spouse wants to preserve the marriage and has done nothing to give the deserting spouse “grounds” for a divorce. These laws have essentially acted to empower whichever party wants out, leaving the spouse who wants to preserve the marriage powerless to prevent its dissolution and with no recourse but acquiescence.
Marriage is one of the few contracts in which the law explicitly protects the defaulting party at the expense of his or her partner. The marriage contract has, thus, been described as having been reduced to little more than a contractual economic partnership devoid of any legal protection.
If all of our business transactions were conducted in a similar fashion, our national economy would collapse. With the marital contract now worth less than the paper it’s written on, why should anyone deceive him or her self into thinking that it is not having the same devastating impact on our marriages and our families.
Adding to laws that help facilitate the divorce process are others that drive the decision to initiate it. Research has shown that the single greatest factor in determining which party is most likely to initiate a divorce is the expectation of being awarded custody of the kids. Along with the kids usually comes a whole range of other financial benefits, as well, including child support, alimony, the marital residence, and one half of the remaining marital assets, to name but a few. With many states – most notably New York – still adhering to the standard sole custody model, wherein one party receives the kids, while the other is left to pay, it’s not difficult to understand how at least one of them may perceive little or no downside.
Without a corresponding overhaul of the entire body of family and matrimonial law and statutory protections for those most likely to become non-custodial parents, no-fault divorce will only produce more of the same devastation in the lives of countless innocent people. The Coalition of Fathers and Families New York, Inc., vigorously opposes and will not consider supporting any such proposal, otherwise.