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Is the Divorce Rate Really Declining?

by Janeen Watkins

A recent article published by the Associated Press pointed out that rates of divorce are at their lowest point since 1970, but that it might be simply that there are fewer marriages per capita than in previous years. Unfortunately, after reading the opinions of the many experts they quoted I came away with more questions than answers. So I decided to get the opinion of someone I know that has his hand on the pulse of the general public in this regard, entrepreneur John Logan, CEO of SafeGuard Guaranty Corporation, which he is positioning to be the first company in the world to offer marriage insurance sometime later this year.

 

JW: You’ve seen the article I mentioned. Is it true? Could we have really come to our senses? Or are we cohabitating more and disguising the statistics?

JL: I did read it and unfortunately I tend to agree that the numbers are misleading. Looking back at all the research we’ve done over the last 5 years it’s easy to get the wrong idea depending on what numbers you look at. I look at everything from a company perspective for obvious reasons, and there is a lot more grey than true black and white.

JW: What do you mean you look at everything from a company perspective? How is that point of view different from mine or the general public?

JL: Well I probably look at these statistics a lot closer than most simply because of the industry I’m in. From my point of view, everything related to marriage and divorce is looked at by how things might impact our bottom line. For instance, a true decline in divorce rates would probably bode well for SafeGuard because we want people to stay married. Unfortunately the researchers on this particular piece failed to take into consideration that several US states stopped submitting divorce rates to the National Bureau of Vital Statistics in the mid 1990’s, including California. Whose population by the way…largest in the US…tops NY and FL combined. And since CA has historically had one of the highest divorce rates in the US, even if they went down some as well, the rates that article reports may be just a wee bit off.

More importantly, the general public really doesn’t care a whole lot about statistics until they start being effected by them. When I grew up, few people I knew even knew what a pre-nupt was let alone considered signing one, but more and more first time marrieds are taking that precaution because they’ve seen first hand the disaster that divorce can turn into.

JW: Should the general public care more?

JL: Heck yeah. Whether people know it or not, failed marriages cost them money every day.

JW: How so? How could my neighbor’s divorce cost me money?

JL:  Oh my gosh. I’m going to take a wild guess and say you don’t do this just for fun, so unless you’ve got some stash of cash somewhere, you’re like most people whose biggest investment is their home. That said, most people don’t know that second only to health problems, divorce is biggest reason for bankruptcy in the US. Picture this. You’re neighbors go through a nasty divorce and the house becomes a bone of contention. One or the other moves out and stops contributing to the mortgage payment. How long do you think it would be before that house next door goes on the auction block and sells for a huge discount? What would that do to your property value? Think about if that happened more than once in your neighborhood. That’s just the tip of the iceberg

JW: I see your point, but what do you mean it’s “just the tip of the iceberg.”

JL: That’s tangible evidence people can see and easily understand when it happens, but the vast majority of the cost of failed marriages is money that drains from our bank accounts in lots of different ways that people don’t see and even some experts can’t get a real grip on.

JW: Like what?

JL: Like the fact that, aside from just bankruptcy, divorce is the number one reason for poverty among newly single mothers worldwide. And one in five women that go onto welfare due to a divorce are still on welfare after five years. Who pays for that? We all do. People who divorce are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, are higher credit risks and miss more time at work. Divorce costs US businesses billions in lost productivity every year. Where does that increased cost come from? Not a business’s bottom line, I’ll tell you that. And children of divorced parents, on the whole, do worse in school, are less likely to attend college and more likely to abuse drugs, alcohol and commit crimes. Given those statistics, where would you rather live, in an area where everyone is married or where every other family is divorced?

JW: Ouch! In that article, Department of Health and Human Services' special assistant for marriage education, Bill Coffin said that he thought that better-educated, wealthier couples have better odds of success in marriage. Do you agree with that?

JL: I’d say while Mr. Coffin’s rose-colored point of view is a nice thought, the demographics of divorce sadly prove that education and/or wealth have little significance in determining whose marriage will succeed and whose will fail. Take Larry King for example. Definitely smart. Certainly wealthy from most people’s viewpoint. Divorced seven times. Is he just a fluke? Probably only in the number of times he’s repeated the process, but he’s certainly not alone in being unable to maintain a healthy marriage despite his cognitive skills and net worth.

JW: So what is the solution from your point of view?

JL: I’m not sure I subscribe to the idea of a “solution”, however, I do agree that we can certainly help the pendulum swing the other way. I noted in the original AP piece that a hometown pundit, Lee Rosen, (Rosen Family Law firm) is quoted as saying his business (divorce) is booming. However, he also points out that from his perspective people are becoming more contemplative about relationships. I’m assuming that he means that people are taking more time to think about the consequence of divorce, but that doesn’t make the divorce rate decline, it simply makes it more civil. And civil or not, divorce is still extraordinarily expensive and many times ruinously so.

Most research will validate that many people who cohabitate rather than marry, currently do so out of a fear of severe negative financial consequence should they split. Even with pre and post nuptial agreements for the rich folks, few will argue that many couples live beyond their means and divorce would drastically change their lifestyle, let alone have a dramatic impact on any kids. Knowing that fact about divorce being the number one reason for bankruptcy and poverty among single mothers worldwide says a lot about how unprepared most people are for that kind of reversal of fortune. Take away that fear of financial ruin and give them substantial monetary incentive to stay married and we might see not only an increase in marriages, but truly fewer divorces and a lot less kids living under the poverty level.

Sure there will always be some doom and gloom proponents that will argue that some couples will stay married just for the money and then divorce afterward but guess what? Study after study shows that couples that stay together during marital problems have a much higher propensity for working through their problems and then staying married. So regardless of the reason, it makes sense to encourage couples to know more about what they’re getting into…way before they marry…through relationship education, and then provide as much incentive and counseling as we can to help them maintain a healthy and successful marriage, but also to create a financial safety net for those unfortunate enough to become a statistic of divorce.

Marriage is still considered to be one of the building blocks of civilized society. We…and by “we” I mean the general public and entrepreneurs in particular, need to do all we can to keep that block a cornerstone and a strong foundation for what’s built on top.

JW: What can someone do right now to increase the likelihood of a successful marriage?

JL: There are literally hundreds of marriage initiatives of all sorts and sizes out there in probably every state. I’ll tell you a good place to start is Diane Sollee’s website SmartMarriages.com (www.smartmarriages.com). Diane is the founder of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education in DC which has a weekly bulletin that includes all sorts of great info for couples to strengthen and revitalize their marriage and they sponsor an annual conference, which, if I’m not mistaken is coming up sometime next month. I’m sure there is information about it on their website. They also have a link to a very comprehensive directory of programs on the website as well.

About the author: Janeen Watkins is a freelance writer and licensed insurance agent in North Carolina. Janeen can be contacted at janeen.watkins@businessbenefitssolutions.net

About John Logan: John Logan is CEO of SafeGuard Guaranty Corporation, a Nevis based insurance holding company with US Operations HQ in North Carolina. Mr. Logan can be reached at john.logan@safeguardguaranty.com.  

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