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Republicans set sights on divorce laws

U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA), the latest House Republican nominee for House Speaker, reacts to former Speaker nominee and current House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) voting for Johnson during another round of voting to pick a new Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., October 25, 2023.

U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA), the latest House Republican nominee for House Speaker, reacts to former Speaker nominee and current House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) voting for Johnson during another round of voting to pick a new Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., October 25, 2023.

REUTERS/Nathan Howard

A growing cadre of GOP social conservatives as senior as House Speaker Mike Johnson and Senator JD Vancesay no-fault divorce has undermined family stability, and they attribute a litany of social ills to it. Vance told high schoolers in California in 2022 that “even violent” marriages should continue in some cases. Johnson and his spouse, meanwhile, are in a covenant marriage, a rare legal institution available in only three states that essentially waives no-fault divorce rights preemptively.


Ronald Reagan signed the first no-fault divorce law in the US as California’s governor in 1969, allowing one spouse to end a marriage unilaterally. Before then, anyone who wished to end a marriage needed to prove their partner had committed an offense like adultery, abandonment, or abuse. The criteria could be tough to meet — in some places, a woman could prove she had been beaten by her husband, for example, but be forced to stay married if the jury did not find he acted with “cruelty.”

The stats speak for themselves when it comes to women’s safety: Between 1976 and 1985, as no-fault divorce laws proliferated, domestic violence against both men and women fell 30%, while the number of women murdered by partners fell 10%. Research suggests that over an even longer term, suicide rates for women declined between 8 and 16%.


A whopping 81% of Americans say divorce is “morally acceptable,” according to Gallup, but they actually aren’t getting divorced that often: Divorce rates are near 40-year lows. Still, you know, maybe talk to a lawyer if you’re unhappily married before it’s too late.

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