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In the late 1970s and early 1980s divorce rates were at a peak high in the U.S. Since then, the divorce rate has dropped a little, but the numbers continue to indicate the divorce rate is remaining stable at about 50 percent. High divorce rates can be extremely emotionally difficult, in addition to having major impacts on social environments and financial consequences. In order to address the high divorce rates in the U.S., some government officials are trying to encourage better marriages.
Whether or not any attempts to bring down the high divorce rates across the country are working is so far unclear. Research shows marriage benefits society and the children, and since 2002, the federal government has set aside $47 million to study and promote marriage in state initiatives. One of the more recent incentives, some states are trying to require premarital education to improve marriages.
Experts are still debating what effect the tactic is having on the divorce rates since it is still under study. Premarital questionnaires were developed and distributed around the same time the nation's divorce rates peaked. Most research shows premarital education does have an impact on couples before marriage, but so far the follow up studies are limited and its effects on the divorce rates are limited.
Michigan is the latest state to try passing a package of bills that would have given incentives to engaged couples who participate in premarital counseling. In 2004, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm vetoed the bills saying they were too intrusive, but Re. Jerry Kooiman plans to reintroduce the bills with changes he hopes will persuade Granholm to withhold her veto. Florida, Minnesota and Maryland currently have laws that offer incentives to couples seeking premarital counseling, but the laws have been controversial.
Even though many lawmakers agree the divorce rates in the U.S. are problematic, whether or not the government should play a role in marriage is debatable. Based on data supplied by the U.S. Census Bureau, the highest divorce rates are found in the Bible Belt states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas. Though a lot of factors can influence the decision to divorce, some geographic factors could help explain the high divorce rates in certain states. For instance, more couples in the South enter their first marriage at a younger age, and the average household incomes are lower in the South, which have been shown to correlate with greater divorce rates.
In the most recent year for available data on divorce rates, which is based on 2003 numbers, there were 7.5 marriages per 1,000 people and 3.8 divorces, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Based on these figures, some experts say the actual divorce rates may not be as high as one in two marriages ending in divorce, but researchers say the number could be misleading since the people divorcing in any given year are not the same as those who are marrying, making the statistic useless in understanding divorce rates.
Though many experts disagree on divorce rates and trends, as well as what they mean, experts do agree that after more than a century of rising divorce rates in the U.S., the rates abruptly stopped going up around 1980.
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Child custody rights may be shared by both parents or, primary child custody rights may be awarded to one parent or legal guardian. Since the 1970s the family court will award child custody rights contingent with the best interests of the child.
Child custody for fathers following a divorce is one of the most important aspects of a dissolving marriage. Throughout history the legal presumptions about child custody for fathers has changed significantly. Before the twentieth century children were regarded as the property of their father. Under common law, child custody for fathers was commonly awarded, as children were considered a father's rightful property. A major shift occurred after this period in history, as family courts came to favor mothers in child custody cases. It was presumed that under normal circumstances, children did better when placed in the sole custody of their mothers.