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Leah Sears, retired chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, professor on family law issues at the University of Georgia School of Law and a former single mom, has published a rather controversial article on CNN that highlights the decline of respect for the promise of marriage among Americans. Some of the claims may not sit that well with many single parents, but Sears raises some interesting and certainly valid concerns.
“Many Americans are failing their children because they have already failed themselves,” Sears writes. She points to a dramatically declining U.S. Marriage Index that needs to be addressed rather sooner than later by the U.S. government as current regulations aren’t working that well.
One of her key concerns is the no-fault divorce law: “Ever since California became the first state to sanction no-fault divorce law 40 years ago, with every state in essence following suit – some with certain stipulations – the most fundamental thread in the fabric of our American values, the institution of marriage, has been unraveling.” While there may be differences in every marriage and divorce, it is, from the view of children as well as divorced single parents who have been the target of adultery, difficult to argue against Sears’ claim.
Whether you are religious or not, a marriage promise is foremost one of the most important promises you can make in life and deciding to have children is certainly the most significant promise you can make to your partner and your children.
The simple fact is that adultery is not a reasonable way to deal with problems in your marriage, yet virtually every state law in the U.S. somewhat rewards those who commit adultery while punishing those who are the target: There are no consequences for adultery and it is a topic that cannot even be discussed in courtrooms. I tend to agree that those parents who commit adultery get off the hook too easily.
Sears’ article continues to promote the institution of marriage and warns of the challenges of single parenthood, depending on your circumstances. “Let’s stop glorifying single parenthood,” she writes. “Celebrity unwed parents like ‘Brangelina,’ Halle Berry and the late Michael Jackson make matrimony seem unimportant and suggest that having a baby as a single parent is ‘cool’ and even easy.”
Sears also repeats the concern that kids growing up in single parent families “are less likely to enjoy the financial security, educational success and social skills of children living with their married parents.” Statistics agree with this statement, but we also know that there are exceptions to that rule and especially single parents know that being a single parent means that, in order to provide for your children and raise them so that they are able to fulfill their dreams, state laws and your children will require you to be a much more educated parent than the average married parent.
Crucial parenting mistakes in marriages often go unnoticed, while the same mistakes in single parenting will be punished in one way or another and may even result in a reduction of parenting rights and, in some cases, in the loss of custody of your child.
In that view, Sears’ claim to “revisit no-fault divorce laws that allow one party to a marriage to opt out of it too easily” seems conclusive as does her concern that fathers may not be involved in their children’s lives as much as they should be: “We need to respect the role of men as husbands and fathers when they do right by their families. Boys and girls need their fathers to love them and to model the sacrifice and commitment that bonds a married couple. Men who “man up” like this need our support and encouragement.”