Desktop Divorce

Back in the 1970s, the great evangelist Francis Schaeffer used to rail against the plague of what he called "easy divorce." Most people, even many Christians, seemed to have no sense of how devastating divorce is to children or how it contributes to the decline of any culture. Well, since the 70s, social science research has borne out the negative consequences of easy divorce. Yet ironically, divorce has just gotten even easier—thanks to the Internet. A British entrepreneur named Richard Cohen has created a Web site that will make divorce as simple as the click of a mouse. Called Desktop Lawyer, it allows couples to bypass the time-consuming and expensive tasks of hiring a lawyer and filing a petition with the court. Instead, for about $150, British couples can now file for a divorce without ever seeing a lawyer, or even going to court. All they have to do is click on the web site and answer a series of questions on-line. Lawyers with Desktop Divorce check the answers, prepare the appropriate pleadings, and file them with the court. You save time, money, and, most of all, the stress associated with going through the legal process. It appears that Brits love stress-free divorce. In the first week after Cohen designed Desktop Divorce, more than 300 couples took advantage of its services. It's only a matter of time before an enterprising American lawyer follows Cohen's lead. As you might expect, not everyone is crazy about this latest example of e-commerce. Patricia Hardcastle, a spokeswoman for the Roman Catholic Church in England, warns that the impersonal nature of Desktop Divorce is likely to encourage more people to file for divorce. As she puts it, "Nobody wants to go through it, but at least we had to do everything face-to-face, which might have made some people stop and think." Precisely. What the West needs is not easier divorce but harder divorce. As the social science data pours in on the negative effects of family breakdown, many pro-family organizations are working to pass laws that erect barriers and slow down the divorce process—such as requiring couples to seek counseling before splitting up. You see, society can't make people be faithful to their spouses; that's a matter of the heart. But what it CAN do is make it harder to be UNfaithful. Society can erect legal and social structures that encourage virtue and discourage vice. People who won't be virtuous out of principle may sometimes be induced to do the virtuous thing merely because it is easier and less troublesome. That's why there was a profound wisdom in the old system that made divorce difficult, expensive, and inconvenient. The prospect of going through a long legal process causes many couples to try harder to make a struggling marriage work. We ought to support laws designed to reinstate some of the barriers to easy divorce. And we'd better act quickly. Even our best efforts may be undermined by the tools of the Information Age. For they are designed to make everything simple and convenient and accessible—even the dissolution of marriage.


Chuck Colson


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