STATE OF ALABAMA
TWENTY-THIRD JUDICIAL COURT
MADISON COUNTY COURTHOUSE
100 NORTH SIDE SQUARE
HUNTSVILLE, ALABAMA 35801
WILLIAM K. BELL
May 1, 2006
Dear Pastoral Leadership:
There are over 3,000 domestic relations cases filed each year here in Madison County, Alabama, including over 1,600 new divorce actions and approximately 700 Protection From Abuse (domestic violence) cases. I presently handle 75% of all of the domestic relations cases filed in our county. A truly sad statistic is that over 6,000 adults, and thousands of children, have their lives affected by a domestic relations case each year, just in Madison County alone. The statistics statewide are just as staggering.
It is far too easy in Alabama to get married, and is just as easy to get divorced. The most commonly used ground for divorce in Alabama is “incompatibility of temperament.” All that a party has to show in court to get a divorce on that ground is that they are not happy and that they can no longer live together happily as husband and wife. Unfortunately, even if the other spouse testifies that they still love their spouse, and that they will do whatever it takes to make their marriage work and keep the family together, the trial judge is still required to enter a divorce.
The Madison County Coalition for Healthy Marriages (www.MCCHM.org) was formed in December, 2004, in response to a high level of community concern for the high rate of divorce in Madison County and the associated costs to our children, families and society. The goals of the Coalition are to decrease the high rate of divorce through divorce intervention programs and increase the number of stable, healthy marriages through thorough premarital preparation. The Coalition hopes to accomplish this through public advocacy for healthy marriage, facilitating the development of affordable marriage programs, and acting as a clearinghouse of marriage resources and information.
In every place where a successful program has emerged that has had a significant impact in reversing the devastating trend of divorce, the foundation for that program has included a coalition of clergy from the community. On behalf of the Coalition, I would like to invite you to a brief lunch meeting with myself, Coalition Chair Debbie Preece, and a group of key clergy representing a diverse cross section of the congregations in our community to consider and discuss how we might join together to significantly impact and strengthen marriages and families throughout Madison County. The details of the meeting are as follows:
TUESDAY, May 23, 2006 at 11:30
First Baptist Church (Fellowship Hall)
600 Governors Dr SW
Phone: (256) 428-9400
Lunch will be provided ($6). Please RSVP (for lunch) by Thursday May 18th by contacting HAPC (534-5358, firstname.lastname@example.org) or Debbie Preece (337-8200, email@example.com). We are contacting every church in Madison County. I look forward to seeing you at the lunch meeting. If you have any questions about the meeting, or need any other information from me, please give me a call at 532-3636. If you have any doubt at all about the need to strengthen marriages and families in Madison County, one morning in my courtroom will dispel any doubts you may have. Please join us in that effort.
Very truly yours,
William K. Bell, Circuit Judge
The following pastors join me in supporting this community wide pastoral coalition:
Oscar Montgomery - Senior Pastor, Union Hill Primitive Baptist Church; Greater Huntsville Interdenominational Ministerial Fellowship (GHIMF)
Tom Bell - Superintendent of Huntsville District, North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church
Don Cross - Senior Pastor, First United Methodist Church
Benjamin Jones - Senior Pastor, First Seventh-Day Adventist Church
Rob Peavy - Director Church and Community Development, Madison Baptist Association
Paul Lawler - Senior Pastor, Chase Valley United Methodist Church; Greater Huntsville Pastors Prayer Summit
Rusty Nelson - Senior Pastor, The Rock Family Worship Center
Paul Koch - Senior Pastor, First Christian Church
Endia Scruggs - Senior Pastor, Madkin's Chapel Cumberland Presbyterian Church
Garry Jordon - Senior Pastor, Jackson Way Baptist
Dan Barton - Senior Pastor, Madison Christian Church
Pam McDaniel - First Baptist Church
Homer McCall - Senior Pastor, St. John's AME Church
Warren Durnell - North Alabama Presbytery
Frank Broyles - Huntsville Association of Pastoral Care, Faith Presbyterian Church
Luther Kramer - The Key Counseling Center
CONSIDER THE POSSIBILITY FOR GREATER HUNTSVILLE!
Marriage Savers - A Strategy for Area-Wide IMPACT
National Marriage Facts and Statistics
The Problem – A Devastating Marriage Crisis
The four primary elements of the marriage crisis:
Marriage - The marriage rate has plunged 43% since 1970. If the same percentage of couples were marrying now as in 1970, there would be a million more marriages a year.
Divorce - Half of all new marriages still end in divorce. There have been 38 million divorces since 1970, impacting 35 million children. Children of divorce are three times as likely to be expelled or to have a baby as a teenager, five times as likely to live in poverty, and 12 times more likely to be incarcerated according to the Heritage Foundation. Even worse, when children of divorce become adults, only 60% marry, they are more likely to divorce, and divorced men die 10 years sooner than married men.
Cohabitation - The number of unmarried couples living together has soared 12-fold from 430,000 in 1960 to 5 million. There are only 2.2 million marriages a year. Cohabitation has become the dominant way male-female unions are formed. However, those who marry after living together are 50% more likely to divorce.
Unwed births - The percentage of children born out-of-wedlock rose again in 2003 to a stunning 35%. Cohabiting couples are as likely to have children as married couples.
The Possibility – Community Marriage Policies (CMP)
According to the Heritage Foundation, “A well executed community marriage covenant can save up to 80% of marriages headed for divorce, reconcile more than 50% of separate couples, enable 80% of step families to be successful parents and marriage partners”
A community marriage policy (CMP) consists of a signed pledge by a coalition of clergy representing a diverse cross-section of congregations in the community to make marriage a priority in their church. Specifics vary by city, but the CMP core ingredients include: 1.) minimum time of marriage preparation, 2.) require anyone getting married to take a premarital inventory, and 3.) train older couples in good marriages to mentor other couples (in different stages).
The Impact – Community Marriage Policies (CMP)
Modesto, CA - divorce dropped 57%, new marriage increased 11%, teen pregnancy decreased 30%, school dropouts decreased 20%, cohabitation decreased 14% (while increased 20-30% nationwide)
Tallahassee, FL - Live the Life Ministries has pushed down Tallahassee’s divorce rate by 23% and has built a CMP with a budget of $600,000 raised locally.
Dalton, GA - From 2003 to 2005 the number of divorces fell from 1,050 to 789, a 24% drop. Judges who perform civil weddings were also encouraged to require premarital couples to take an inventory.
Austin, TX - After 252 pastors signed its Community Marriage Policy in 1996, the average number of divorces fell to 2,319 in 1999-2000, a steep 29% drop in the divorce rate.
Kansas City, KS - In Johnson County, a suburb of Kansas City, the divorce rate fell 65.9% while it rose by 11.2% in comparable counties.
Shreveport, LA - Shreveport slashed its divorce rate by 31% in its first year after a CMP signing.