Wanna help reduce the size of government and how much money it spends?
After all, that's the resounding battle cry these days in conservative circles, isn't it?
Well, here's an idea: don't divorce.
Granted, it's not a new concept, but the Heritage Foundation's weekly e-newsletter called "Culture Watch" neatly summarizes some basic facts about the ancillary financial costs of divorce on society. Entitled "The Fiscal Benefits of Fixing Broken Homes," their e-mail this week counts some of the ways keeping families intact saves all of us money:
"As the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project notes, just one divorce can cost state and federal governments up to $30,000 as dependency on government aid increases with family dissolution. With roughly 40 to 50 percent of marriages predicted to end in divorce, marital breakdown can cost billions each year in government assistance.
"Perhaps even more troubling than the economic costs of divorce, society’s grand experiment in family breakdown has serious ramifications for the well-being of future generations. Children who do not live in intact families are more likely to have decreased academic performance and experience higher rates of divorce in their own marriages. Adolescents from non-intact families are more likely to engage in sexual activity, use illicit drugs, and exhibit anti-social behavior.
"Intact marriage, on the other hand, can have profound social and economic benefits for current and future generations, promoting greater physical health, improving finances, and providing the emotional stability to raise well-adjusted children. Marriage can even help reduce child poverty."
Now, maybe this will all sound hollow and insensitive from a never-married, no-children white male, but as a United States citizen and taxpayer, maybe I need to make a little noise about how all the people out there who get divorced are actually costing me money!
Think about it: if you're a fiscal conservative, and you don't like paying taxes, and you favor limited government, and you encourage personal responsibility, and you think government intervention in private family affairs has become too intrusive, and you believe public school systems have too much authority over our kids, and you're married; then don't divorce!
Not that financial considerations should be the primary reason spouses decide not to end their marriage. There are plenty of sound moral and Biblical reasons to remain true and faithful to the person with whom you've walked down that matrimonial aisle.
But if those esoteric rationales seem to fade in the heat of anger, distrust, frustration, disillusionment, and betrayal, then think about the money. Not what you might salvage in divorce court, but what your divorce and everybody else's could end up costing the rest of us.
Granted, since selfishness tends to rule at the top of reasons people get divorced, caring about how the destruction of your marriage vows impacts people unrelated to you probably matters little. But the facts - unlike, perhaps, the spouse with whom you're unhappy - don't lie.
Ultimately, in too many broken families, the government needs to step in somehow and make up for something that evaporates in the disunity. Both for the sake of the immediate family members involved, and for the rest of society at large. This government assistance takes various forms, and it's all far more expensive than if families managed their own affairs privately, together.
From unpaid child support, which can lead to poverty and welfare; to latchkey children, which can lead to poor academic performance and crime; to miserable academic performance, which can lead to poverty, welfare, and crime; to teenaged pregnancies, which can lead to poverty and welfare, divorce simply does not provide any fiscal benefit to society. None. Zip. Except to divorce lawyers, and who thinks the world needs any more of those?
Sure, maybe with your income and professional degree, you'll be able to salvage some of the economic supports that will keep yourself, your ex, and your kids out of poverty. Not all kids from broken homes become criminals, and not all ex-spouses become dependant on government agencies for sustenance. But emotional scars from something as destructive as divorce have a way of manifesting themselves in all sorts of social dysfunctions that end up costing all of us money. Maybe not now, or two years after the divorce becomes final. For some fortunate families, maybe not at all. But who can control their divorce that successfully? After all, you couldn't manage to salvage your marriage.
Sure, it's easy for me to talk, never having been married myself. But one of the reasons I've yet to be married involves my appreciation for how hard it must be. Marriage isn't all sticky love and passion, like immature lovers imagine it to be. It's compromise and self-sacrifice, resolute commitment, deep emotions you wouldn't dare show anybody else, brutal honesty, and the daily grind of morning breath and unmentionables drying in the bathroom. And that's all before you even have kids!
I'm not naive enough to expect every marriage to last happily-ever-after. But haven't the rates of divorce in the evangelical church - not to mention our society in general - gotten completely out of hand? For people of faith to live out their faith in a covenant of marriage, raise children who will honor them and God, and model family ethics in a culture pushing for things like gay marriage, divorce cannot be a realistic option.
Especially if we're also trying to bring down our nation's debt.