April 23, 2008

The Cost of Divorce

Justin Katz

A recent study (PDF) produced by a group of family-values organizations, led by the Institute for American Values attempts to quantify the public monetary costs of divorce (emphasis in original):

Based on the methodology, we estimate that family fragmentation costs U.S. taxpayers at least $112 billion each and every year, or more than $1 trillion each decade. ...

These costs arise from increased taxpayer expenditures for antipoverty, criminal justice, and education programs, and through lower levels of taxes paid by individuals who, as adults, earn less because of reduced opportunities as a result of having been more likely to grow up in poverty.

Arguments could and should be had over the methodology, but inasmuch as I'd intuitively accept the general proposition that divorce comes with a public price tag, that's not what concerns me. Rather, it's the policy implications section that catches my eye (emphasis in original):

First, public concern about the decline of marriage need not be based only on the important negative consequences for child well-being or on moral concerns, as important as these concerns may be. High rates of family fragmentation impose extraordinary costs on taxpayers. Reducing these costs is a legitimate concern of government, policymakers, and legislators, as well as civic leaders and faith communities.

Second, even very small increases in stable marriage rates would result in very large returns to taxpayers. For example, a mere 1 percent reduction in rates of family fragmentation would save taxpayers $1.12 billion annually.

Given the modest cost of government and civic marriage-strengthening programs, even more modest success rates in strengthening marriages would be cost-effective.

This is one of those areas in which I think the cultural right has been corrupted by the modern impulse toward big government. If we wish to help families, we should remove some of the stress imposed by high taxes and pervasive regulations. If we wish to encourage marriage, rather than filter money through layered bureaucracies in targeted efforts within the compromise boundaries of public expenditures and support, we should clear the way for those who would teach marriage, so to speak, as a matter of moral imperative.

It isn't too outlandish of a quip to suggest that those who wish to strengthen the culture of marriage ought to focus on such measures as changing the education system to allow parents to choose whatever schools they like for their children — whether religiously based, or not (provided the schools meet a standard of academic rigor). After protecting the definition of marriage, traditionalists should content themselves with dismantling walls against religion and free speech that have sprouted like weeds in the law.

In the long run, expanding the nanny state will do more damage than good.

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Serial Adulterer, Newt Gingrich has more
infomation on this problem, on his website.

Posted by: roger at April 23, 2008 2:47 PM

How much credit did McCain get on his trade-in?

Posted by: rhody at April 23, 2008 8:02 PM

I felt compelled to respond to this post.

Yes, there is a taxpayer cost when divorce occurs. But there is also a taxpayer cost to pollution, for which there is some government regulation. There is additional taxpayer cost when children fail in school. There is a taxpayer cost for businesses that fail. The point should not be that semi-private failures come with taxpayer cost, but in finding a balance between government regulation and personal rights in a free, capitalist and democratic society.

I do not understand the point of saying that divorce costs money as a reason for increased barriers. Abortion also saves the taxpayers money, but we certainly don’t justify it despite that.

I am not sure what you specifically you mean by teaching “marriage, as a matter of moral imperative”. Are you saying that schools should teach that getting married is a moral imperative? Or that staying married is a moral imperative? By “a moral imperative”, do you mean that it is one that should be codified by law? I do not agree. And the reason is simple; it takes two people to be married yet only one to either end or harm it. Having laws preventing divorce gives one person an extreme incentive to take advantage of another. It is unfair to setup laws/rules affecting the lives of multiple (parents, children) when only one has the ability to do damage to the others.

I agree with you that marriage is not a singularly private institution. It is in the interest in the public and therefore, should have public resources to assist in its maintenance.

I agree with you on the goal of strengthening marriageS (emphasis on the plural, referring to doing this by working with the couple to strengthen their relationship and reduce the possibility of divorce.) But having laws that are only intended to reduce the “number” of legal divorces is, in my opinion, indicative of moving towards the nanny state not away from it. If the goal is to truly invest in the institution of marriage, then there should be standards on the front end in addition to the back end.

Posted by: msteven at April 25, 2008 4:36 PM

Divorce is big business. Just ask the social workers, victims advocates, womens shelters, lawyers, judges, police, real estate brokers, etc.. who all profit from it.

The divorce industry has a vested interest in making the man the wrongdoer --and making the woman the victim. It doesn't work as well (for the divorce profiteers) if they have to try each case on the facts. It's not as profitable if the man gets to keep a good chunk his money. So, guess which finding/ result keeps popping up all the time?

Family Court in RI will rip your heart out and break up your family without even a second thought. How much time will the judge spend in deciding your fate? It is likely measured in mere minutes.

It's another wonderful perk of a corrupt and incestuous welfare state. There are few limitations as to where big government can stick its nose, or how cruelly it can act.

It prompts me to recall the following famous quotation: A government that is powerful enough to give you everything you want, is a government that is powerful enough to take away everything you have.

Posted by: Citizen Critic at April 28, 2008 4:40 PM
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