Wednesday, August 15, 2012


We don’t need studies to verify the maxim: “As marriage goes, so goes the family, and as the family goes, so goes the culture.” But there are plenty of studies which show exactly that. Broken families lie at the root of most of our societal ills simply because the family is the essential societal cell, and marriage is its nucleus. 

Guam has traditionally been a very pro-family culture, characterized by large numbers of children, commitment to the elderly, and mutual support. However, especially over the last 25 years or so, the family on Guam, like much of the western world, has been fragmenting on a frightening scale.

Everyone seems to be aware that “something bad is happening” to Guam’s families, but  few seem to understand the cause, its proportions, or what to do to turn it around. Obviously, blaming outside influence and asking for more money for more failed social programs is not the answer. 

This report is an attempt to shed some light on the issue in the hopes that we might stop this monster before it stops us. As we might suppose, divorce is at the root of most family fragmentation, and on Guam, as we shall see, divorce is a much bigger problem than what many might imagine.

Before we begin, I want to say that I have several friends who have suffered through divorce and I am entirely sympathetic to their struggles, and am certain they will appreciate the intent of this essay.

First, a look at the numbers. A 2008 United Nations report shows Russia, the nation with the world’s highest incidence of divorce, with a Crude Divorce Rate (number of divorces per 1000 population) of 5.0. (1)The report does not have current data for Guam, however, our divorce rate can be found in the 2010 Guam Statistical Yearbook which shows a Guam CDR of 4.7. (2)

However, the 4.7 number was based on a higher than actual projection of total population, which the 2010 census eventually reported as 159,358. (3) Given the 849 divorces reported in 2010, Guam’s actual CDR is 5.3, which puts Guam on top of the world in the number of divorces granted by our courts relative to the population.

This is, no doubt, a rather dubious distinction. Guam: the divorce capital of the world? The picture darkens further when we consider that Russia was for the better part of a century under atheistic communistic domination, and Guam, for the better part of half a millennium has been predominantly Catholic.

What has happened on Guam is a classic illustration of “Lex Magister” (the law teaches), or, as it has also been expressed: “the law shapes the culture.” It is also an illustration of the consequence of our careless choices in electing the people who make those laws which “shape the culture”.

About 25 years ago, our divorce laws were relaxed to provide a loophole in the residency requirement - effectively allowing “mail order” divorces. The divorce rate did not change noticeably at first because Guam had not yet allowed no-fault divorce. However, we took care of that in 1998 (4).

Again, the divorce rate did not change right away, and in fact, in 2002, had dropped to a low of 3.0. However, it was the calm before the storm. The combination of an intended loophole in the residency requirement and no-fault divorce was an opportunity just waiting to be exploited. And as one Guam attorney said “I picked up and ran with this.” (5)

And run he did, as did many other Guam attorneys. In 2003, Guam’s CDR almost doubled to 5.4. In 2004 it more than doubled to 11.8. And by 2005 it reached a staggering 14.1, a feat which motivated another attorney to testify proudly: “Guam is the only U.S. jurisdiction that provides for these types of consent to jurisdiction divorces.”

Guam Statistical Yearbook 2001 Table PO17, 2005 Table 11-97, 2008 Table 11-05, 2010 Table 12-09, published by Bureau of Statistics and Plans, Office of the Governor

By 2005, not only was Guam averaging a scandalous 9.25 divorces per working day, other U.S. jurisdictions had begun to question the validity of Guam divorces given that jurisdiction to grant divorces is based on domicile, and Guam’s courts required no proof of it.

In other words, not only had Guam debased itself morally with its shameful shingle “Get Your Divorce Here”, we had also discredited ourselves by projecting the image that Guam was a judicial banana republic, granting divorces - as one attorney said - that were “not worth the paper they were printed on.” (6)

In an attempt to salvage Guam from this moral, ethical, and legal mess, a bill was introduced in 2005 which “would have” eliminated non-resident divorces entirely by restoring enforcement of the 90-day residency requirement (though even that requirement is still liberal by most state and national standards). (7)

Would have” is in quotes because, pro-divorce senators who wanted to keep Guam’s divorce mill humming with revenue (which is why the residency requirements were relaxed in the first place) replaced the bill’s 90-day residency requirement with a vacation length “stay” of a mere seven days. (8)

Though the seven-day requirement did eliminate the ethical and judicial scandal of mail-order divorces, it created an opportunity to prostitute Guam anew as a divorce destination, an opportunity many Guam law offices, once again, “picked up and ran with.”

The new law had the comical effect of immediately turning some law office websites into vacation blogs, such as which gushes about all the wonderful things you can do on Guam while waiting for your marriage to be dissolved:

"Guam offers an amazing variety of leisure activities as well as historical and cultural attractions. In addition to its beaches, duty free shopping, and varied nightlife, Guam boasts seven world-class golf courses, some of the best scuba diving and snorkeling in the world, underwater parks and submarine tours, sunset dinner cruises, jet skiing, wind surfing, kayaking, parasailing, sky diving, and deep-sea fishing." (9)

Of course, Divorce Tourism would not be possible without those Guam lawmakers who saw nothing wrong with growing such an industry. During the debate, one senator commented: "I don't see the detriment to our island. I don't see that this causes any harm.” (10)

In attempting to rationalize the damning divorce numbers, some argue that because of our playing host to “mail-order divorces” and Divorce Tourism, the divorce statistics do not reflect the real state of things on Guam.

True, but prostituting ourselves to divorce dollars has come with a cost, a big one. How else to explain the massive number of fractured local families and the abuse and neglect of the 3294 children reported by CPS in just 2011 alone? (11)

Already in 2010, Guam’s child abuse rate was nearly twice that of Washington D.C., the worst place in the nation for children excluding the territories. And when compared to the national average of 10.22 maltreated children per 1000 child population , our figure of 72.80 for 2011 is scandalous to a monstrous degree. (12)

National statistics derived from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. (2011). Child Maltreatment 2010, Table 3-6. Guam statistics derived from Guam Statistical Yearbook 2010, Child Abuse rate: Table 12-27, total child population: Table 14-03

So Senator(s), do you now see the “detriment to our island”?

Some will contest the connection between lax divorce laws and child abuse. However, there is simply no doubt about the societal impact of family breakdown, and our lawmakers have enabled the engine of that breakdown, i.e. divorce, to a radical, world-leading degree. And since the children are always the first to suffer, the rate of child abuse is a reliable measure of family fragmentation. (13)

Divorce is better for children?

It is indeed a curious thing to listen to endless talk about Guam’s social ills when most of the time the people doing the talking are the people who legislated the mess in the first place.

The testimony in support of the 1998 no-fault divorce bill contains the standard claims that divorce is better for the children of parents who no longer want to stay married. (14)

Not only is there absolutely no evidence for this position, there is massive evidence to the contrary: wherever states have implemented no-fault divorce, the family has imploded and child abuse has exploded (at least 67% of sexually abused children come from broken families). (15)

The burden of caring for the women and children from those broken families almost always falls to the government. And 40 years later, we are seeing states like California, which pioneered no-fault divorce, slipping headlong into bankruptcy.

Yet, Guam bought into this drivel in the name of compassion for unhappy spouses.

A note from the governor who signed Guam’s no-fault divorce bill into law states: “The aim of this legislation is not to encourage divorces or make it easier...The aim of this legislation is to reduce the hostility between married persons who are already embroiled in differences.” (16)

But now, with fourteen year hindsight, we can clearly see that not only did Guam’s divorce rate skyrocket to a world record high, so did “hostility between married persons” as evidenced by the still soaring rates of family violence. Except now it’s not the husband who beats the woman’s head in with a baseball bat, it’s her boyfriend, or her “ex”.

Perhaps the most ironic testimony in support of the legislation came from the then-Chief of Police, who wrote of his hopes that no-fault divorce would provide a “safeguard against violence occurring.”

The irony of course is that the CPS report alone would show that the opposite has occurred. In fact, as revealed in a 2011 report, as many as 28 victims of domestic violence and their children receive life-saving services daily from local domestic violence organizations. And of course, those are only the ones which were reported and responded to. (17)

What to do?

Sadly, there was no opposing testimony to the no-fault divorce legislation, no Marine Corps Drive “waves”, no signs on churches, no “just say no to divorce” t-shirt campaign, no announcements from the pulpit decrying the projected effects of the legislation even though by 1998 we had more than three decades of stateside evidence of the havoc wrought by no-fault divorce upon the family and the damage done to children.

Also, there has been no noticeable protest from Christians, Catholics or otherwise, over the promotion of Guam as a Divorce Destination, which as we have demonstrated, has produced the highest rates of divorce in the world, and has infected the local population of Guam with a divorce, if not an anti-marriage, culture of its own. (18)

It is not too late. It is never too late for a Church which has as its foundation the promise of Christ that “the gates of hell will not prevail.” But will we respond?

The quote from the senator who did not see how “this could be detrimental to Guam” is a classic illustration of why the government can’t fix this and why only the Church can. Without an understanding of the “Mystical Body of Christ” - of how the wound of sin in one part of the body affects the whole, the problem can neither be seen nor solved.

Marriage, and the promotion and protection of it, is the proper domain of the Church. Not only did Christ elevate the one man-one woman, life-long, life-giving relationship to  a Sacrament - a path to Heaven, but marriage itself prefigures the eternal wedding feast that IS Heaven. Thus, it is our duty to announce Heaven in and through our marriages, and in so doing, bring about the Kingdom of God on earth.

It is time for the Church to move beyond Pre-Cana classes and start doing some Post-Cana training, combat training, spiritual combat. It is time for the Church to go beyond its ministry to “the youth” and start doing something (consistently) for their parents. And for the laity, it is time to stop talking about family and start holding accountable those lawmakers whose policies dismantle it.

1. United Nations Statistics Division, Demographic Yearbook, Table 25, Divorces and crude divorce rates by urban/rural residence: 2004-2008 (here)

2. Guam Statistical Yearbook 2010, Table 12-09, Vital Statistics Summary, Guam: Calendar Years 2006 to 2010 (here)

3., "U.S. Census Bureau Releases 2010 Census Population Counts for Guam" (here)

4. Public Law 23-134, An Act relative to establishing "irreconcilable differences" as a ground for the dissolution or marriages. (here)

5. Bill 138-28, Committee Report, November 5, 2008 (here)

6. ibid

7. ibid

8. Public Law 28-93, An act to require court findings as to the residency of any party to a divorce (here)

9., FAQ's (here)

10. "Guam no longer a divorce mill", by Steve Limtiaco, Pacific Daily News, found reposted at (here)

11. Guam DPHSS Division of Public Welfare, Bureau of Social Services Administration, Child Protective Services (here)

12. National statistics derived from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children's Bureau, Child Maltreatment 2010, Table 3-6 (here). Guam statistics derived from Guam Statistical Yearbook 2010, Child Abuse rate: Table 12-27, and total child population: Table 14-03 (here)

13. "Re-examining the impact of no-fault divorce", Emory Report, April 22, 1996, Volume 48, No. 30 (here)

14. Public Law 24-134 (here)

15. Wilson, Robin, "Children at Risk: the sexual exploitation of female children after divorce," Cornell Law Review, Jan 2001 v86 i2 p251 (here)

16. Public Law 24-134

17. Pacific News Center, "Survey Reveals Troubling Rate of Domestic Violence on Guam", March 3, 2011 (here)

18. Guam’s Crude Marriage Rate (marriages per 1000 population) has declined from 10.5 in 1991 to 7.8 in 2009. Data derived from Guam Statistical Yearbooks, 2001, 2008 and 2010.
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