The Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act (UMDA) Project
In 1965, a little-known organization called the Uniform Law Commission announced a new project to draft a 'uniform' marriage and divorce law that would be a 'model' for the states to enact.
The 'Commission' is a spin off of the American Bar Association and serves as their 'drafting arm' to write 'model' laws for state legislatures to enact.
Made up of lawyers from each state who are appointed by their governors, the Commission meets every summer to draft model laws and that meeting is called the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL).
While most people think that state legislators write their state laws, very few people have heard of the Commission, which has been described as a 'shadow super-legislature'. After a new law is drafted, the Commissioners take it back to their home-states and promote it to their state legislators.
In 1967, the Commission secured funding to begin their Project (the early focus was solely on divorce law but marriage regulation was then included). They hired a young University of Minnesota Law Professor - Robert J. Levy - to serve as the lead 'Reporter' for the Project, and Berkeley Law Professor Herma Hill Kay would serve as 'Associate Reporter.' Their role was to guide the project and to prepare 'drafts' for the Commissioners. At the time, Prof. Kay was also involved in drafting California's groundbreaking new law, which was known as the 'Family Law Act'.
Members of the ABA Section on Family Law were invited to serve as 'advisors' for the national Project and another group of professionals was asked to serve as 'consultants.
The first draft of the model law, which was presented at the 1969 annual NCCUSL meeting, proved to be controversial. The model law proposed a new standard for divorce actions - 'Irretrievable Breakdown' - but it wasn't given any definition.
Some of the Commissioners accepted this new idea but others were uneasy about introducing a new standard that would have no definition.
Transcripts are available of the 1969, 1970, and 1973 annual meetings where they drafted this law. The debate was heated, and at least one Commissioner took the floor and gave a lengthy objection to this new law.
Legal terminology was changed in order to fit the style of the new law. The 'plaintiff' would be called the 'petitioner' and the 'defendant' would be called the 'respondent.' The action would be known as a Petition for Divorce, rather than a 'Lawsuit'. But, the truth was that it was still a lawsuit. The judge had control over the parties involved through the state's 'police power' and could levy 'contempt' charges in order to reach the inevitable outcome.
This new type of lawsuit no longer had a 'cause of action' (accusation) and there was no way to protect against it (defenses). It's like putting a tame animal in a fenced enclosure and then shooting it. (See bear story for parallels.)
But, you be the judge. Was this an innocent project that helped individuals, families, and society - or was it the biggest scam in U.S. history?