Media Push Back Against Absurd Fact-Check Of GOP Candidate's Discriminatory Divorce Position


Media outlets are ramping up their pushback against a highly questionable PolitiFact Virginia analysis of the proposed elimination of no-fault divorce law supported by Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia and favorite of "father's rights" groups.

PolitiFact Virginia Criticizes Ad Hitting GOP Candidate's Opposition To No-Fault Divorce 

PolitiFact Virginia: Campaign Ad For Democratic Gubernatorial Nominee Terry McAuliffe "Omits That The Legislation Would Have Made It Equally More Difficult For Dads To Get Divorces." Changing its rating from "Half True To Mostly False" after publication, PolitiFact critiqued Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe's campaign ad that noted Cuccinelli's support for "extreme divorce" legislation would severely limit the ability of mothers to leave abusive marriages:

Here's the text of a TV ad McAuliffe launched on Sept. 4 that contains a picture of a woman pushing two young children on swings:

"2008. Ken Cuccinelli writes a bill to give Virginia among the most extreme divorce laws in America.

If Cuccinelli had it his way, a mom trying to get out of a bad marriage, over her husband's objections, could only get divorced if she could prove adultery or physical abuse or her spouse had abandoned her or was sentenced to jail.

Why is Ken Cuccinelli interfering in our private lives?

He's focused on his own agenda. Not us."

The ad follows a series of McAuliffe claims that Cuccinelli has sought to limit access to abortion and birth control. We wondered whether Cuccinelli really did introduce legislation aimed at making it harder for moms to end bad marriages.


McAuliffe's ad says Cuccinelli introduced legislation in 2008 that would have made it more difficult for mothers to obtain divorces.

Cuccinelli's unsuccessful bill would have eliminated the ability for a spouse in a couple with minor children to unilaterally file for a no-fault divorce. The legislation would have allowed the other spouse to block the process by filing a written objection.

No doubt, the bill would have it harder for moms to obtain divorces. But McAuliffe, in trying to portray it as an attack on women, omits that the legislation would have made it equally more difficult for dads to get divorces.

So McAuliffe's claim contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give voters a different impression. We rate it Mostly False. [PolitiFact Virginia, 9/4/13]

Right-Wing Media Parrot PolitiFact Rating, Cheer On Bill Repealing No-Fault Divorce

National Review Online: PolitiFact's "Mostly False" Rating Of McAuliffe Ad Shows Democrat Is "The Real Extremist." The NRO claimed that Cuccinelli's legislation is spurred out of concern for the "bitter consequences for kids" and equally seeks to prevent both women and men from "opt[ing] out of the marriage on a whim":

Another McAuliffe TV ad depicts Cuccinelli as the jerk who wants to make sure women stay in unhappy marriages. "If Cuccinelli had it his way, a mom trying to get out of a bad marriage over her husband's objections could only get divorced if she could prove adultery or physical abuse or her spouse had abandoned her or was sentenced to jail." Okay, but here's the key bit McAuliffe leaves out: Men would face the same rules in trying to end their marriages, if that law [against no-fault divorce for parents of minors] had passed. (PolitiFact, an outlet not known for being sympathetic to social conservatives, agreed the legislation would have affected both men and women.) The legislation, recognizing that divorce often had bitter consequences for kids, was an attempt to make sure that neither spouse in a marriage with minor children could opt out of the marriage on a whim. [National Review Online, 9/19/13]

Washington Times Op-Ed: Opposition To Elimination Of No-Fault Divorce Is "Feminism Uber Alles." Writing in The Washington Times,'s Janice Shaw Crouse claimed criticism of legislation that eliminates no-fault divorce, such as within the McAuliffe ad, is not a "women's rights" issue and "ignore[s] the children hurt by divorce":

It's odd that no-fault divorce laws do not take into account the well-being of children. When no-fault divorce cases arise and children are involved, child-custody hearings and battles can be epic in deciding which spouse gets the children when. Rarely do they take into account what the children want. What if the children do not want their parents to get divorced? Do they get a vote? Social science data show that the best environment for children is living with their married mother and father. With all the blame to go around, the children are certainly not at fault for their parents' marital problems. They are the true party of no-fault, but under no-fault laws they suffer the most. 

While Mr. McAuliffe tries to portray Mr. Cuccinelli's bill as "extreme" and damaging to women, he seems to ignore the children hurt by divorce. How often do we hear a policy is "for the children"? When a policy can be spun to promote supposed "women's rights," though, as Mr. McAuliffe's ad seems to do, the children are on their own. [The Washington Times9/17/13]

But Mainstream Media Are Pointing Out That McAuliffe Campaign Ad Was "Completely Correct"

The Washington Post: Cuccinelli Introduced Bill That Will Cause "Mothers [To] Be Shortchanged Compared To Current Law." Glenn Kessler of the Post's Fact Checker blog pointed out that the McAuliffe ad was "pretty good for an attack ad" and correctly cited the disparate effects of Cuccinelli's proposed law on women: 

[O]ur colleagues at PolitiFact Virginia have already labeled it "mostly false." But, no disrespect to PolitiFact, the more we looked into it, the more we decided the ad was mostly true; indeed, the line above is completely correct.

It comes down to context, which we acknowledge can be subjective. The missing context that led to PolitiFact's ruling is that Cuccinelli, as a state lawmaker, did not single out women when he proposed laws regarding divorce.

But there's other, perhaps more important, context as well--notably that Cuccinelli's proposals were part of the legislative agenda of so-called father's rights groups. Cuccinelli could not offer a law that specifically targeted women, but the practical effect of his proposals is that mothers would be shortchanged compared to current law.


[A]s McAuliffe's ad stated, that also means the spouse seeking a divorce would need, possibly at great expense, to make a case for one of the other grounds, such as adultery or physical abuse.

McAuliffe's ad, designed to take advantage of a gender gap in the race, emphasized the impact of this shift from the perspective of the woman. For instance, here's what the state of Virginia says about proving adultery: "Proving adultery is very fact-specific. The evidence must be strict, satisfactory and conclusive that the other spouse did in fact engage in sexual relations with another person." So if a no-fault divorce is not available, that's the burden that a woman wanting a divorce would need to climb if Cuccinelli's proposal had become law. [The Washington Post9/23/13]

Slate: The "Ad [Is] Indisputably True" And Cuccinelli Bill Is A National Outlier That Would Make it Abnormally Hard For Abuse Victims To Divorce. Slate's Amanda Marcotte pointed out that the proposed bill was not "gender-neutral" in light of the fact that domestic violence victims are "largely female":

The problem with deeming this claim "mostly false": It's 100 percent true. As reported in the Huffington Post, when Cuccinelli was a state senator, he filed not one but two laws that were aimed at eliminating Virginia's no-fault divorce law--which would make Virginia the only state in the country not to have a law protecting its citizens' ability to unilaterally end a marriage without giving a specific reason--though the legislation died in committee. PolitiFact admits that if Cuccinelli's bill had become law, that would indeed mean that it would be harder for people seeking divorce to get one over their spouse's objection. Last I checked, moms are people, making this ad indisputably true.


Couples who mutually agree to divorce wouldn't have been touched by Cuccinelli's proposed law. It's just for the spouses who don't want the divorce. Unfortunately, when relationships are abusive, it's very often the case that the victim wants out but the abuser wants to hold it together. Even though there was technically an exception for abuse in Cuccinelli's bill, those victims--who are largely female--would have had to cobble together evidence that would be necessary to meet Cuccinelli's standards for the exception, a process that would require many to stay in the marriage and endure abuse while gathering proof. Cuccinelli may not see this as a problem, but McAuliffe is right to bring it to voters' attention. [Slate, 9/19/13]

Contrary To PolitiFact's Reasoning, Bill Would Disproportionately Impact Women

Former Chief Economist For U.S. Department of Labor: No-Fault Divorce "Benefit[s] The Most Vulnerable Women Substantially." Studying the effects of no-fault divorce, which would be eliminated under Cuccinelli's legislation, current Associate Professor of Public Policy at the University of Michigan Betsey Stevenson found that it even provides a significant deterrent against domestic violence for women who remain in troubled marriages:

[D]ivorce laws do affect marital life. In further research we uncovered evidence of a large decrease in domestic violence among states that adopted unilateral divorce laws, relative to those [] which did not. This decrease was not just because abused women (and men) could more easily divorce their abusers, but also because potential abusers knew that they were more likely to be left. We found a 30 percent decline in domestic violence -- an effect that could only occur if violence decreased in marriages that stayed together.

We also found that women were less likely to commit suicide when they were able to leave their marriages unilaterally. In short, we found that the adoption of these laws benefited the most vulnerable women substantially. [States that do not have no-fault divorce] can anticipate similar benefits if their no-fault divorce law passes. [The New York Times6/15/10]

The Washington Post: Support For Elimination Of No-Fault Divorce, Despite Opposition From Women's Rights Groups, Is A Goal Of "A Loose National Network Of Activists Who Think the Legal System Is Stacked Against Men In Divorce And Custody Cases." Ben Pershing of the Post reported on Cuccinelli's long-time association with the "father's rights" movement, whose supporters have applauded his repeated endorsement of their preferred legislation, such as the elimination of no-fault divorce:

As a state senator in 2005, Cuccinelli offered a bill that would have made it so parents initiating a no-fault divorce could have that action counted against them "when deciding custody and visitation." The measure never came to a vote, but Cuccinelli won praise from Stephen Baskerville, then-president of the American Coalition for Fathers and Children, for fighting against the no-fault divorce "epidemic."

Cuccinelli also was the lone Senate vote against legislation to increase child support payments by tying them more closely to inflation. The 2006 measure passed 39-1, but stalled in the Virginia House of Delegates. Baskerville said the bill was an attempt to "railroad through higher child support, though it already is at punitive levels."

Nix said that "clearly there were problems with the legislation" because the measure did not advance in the House and has not been revived.

The two bills covered the main bases of the fathers' rights agenda, said Jocelyn Elise Crowley, a Rutgers University public policy professor and author of "Defiant Dads: Fathers' Rights Activists in America."


Nationally, fathers' rights groups also have opposed the federal Violence Against Women Act, partly because they think it has fueled false abuse allegations. A group previously run by Grignol, Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting, claimed in a 2007 report that because of the Violence Against Women Act, "over 1 million false allegations of domestic violence are filed each year." Women's rights groups and other critics strongly dispute that false claims are so widespread.

This year, 47 state attorneys general sent a letter to Congress urging lawmakers to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. Cuccinelli was one of three who did not sign it. [The Washington Post8/28/13]

National Organization For Women: "Father's Rights" Organizations Support Efforts That "Have Negative Consequences For Protective Mothers And Their Children." The NOW Family Law Ad Hoc Advisory Committee warned that "the term 'fathers' rights' is misleading as no legal rights are denied to men because they are men or fathers" and these groups are instead seeking to reverse gains for women in family law:

First, a note of clarification: fathers' custody activists or fathers' rights groups focus on divorce, custody and alleged gender discrimination in the courts; as opposed to the men's liberation groups who contend men are victims of gender inequality in general as the women's rights movement has grown. In our view, the term "fathers' rights" is misleading as no legal rights are denied to men because they are men or fathers.


Prolonging divorce or custody proceedings and continued motions for modification or contempt of court (also known as "litigation abuse") are tactics the fathers' custody activists recommend to divorcing fathers to keep former partners off balance, financially strapped and, in many instances, very scared.

Men who were violent and controlling during their marriage are likely to continue or increase their violence and control during a divorce proceeding or custody modification proceeding. Women who leave abusive relationships are at the most risk of danger when they make plans to leave the relationship or move away (such as in the tragic case of Nicole Brown Simpson). This is the juncture at which the most tragic events take place, sometimes resulting in the murder of the wife. These consequences are evident in state domestic violence fatality review board findings and in newspaper headlines all too often. More than three women each day die as a result of intimate partner violence in the U.S.


Though fathers' custody activists contend that their organizing is necessary to protect their "rights," the National Organization for Women Foundation and the NOW Family Law Ad Hoc Advisory Committee believe that their true objectives are to discriminate against, control and punish women by gaining custody of children and to denigrate the personal and economic sacrifices made by mothers for their children. [Special Report Of The NOW Family Law Ad Hoc Advisory Committee, Fall 2012]

Posted In
Government, Justice & Civil Liberties
Network/Outlet, The Washington Times, National Review Online
Courts Matter
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