- Ethics & Religion
June 14, 2006
Makes Divorce Harder to Get
by Michael J. McManus
Louisiana's House and Senate have passed bills that are likely to lead to a
landmark law -
the first since "No Fault Divorce" was signed by Cal. Gov. Ronald Reagan in
1969 to make
divorce harder to get.
Couples with children seeking a divorce in Louisiana after January 1 will
have to live
apart for a year, and not just six months as the current law allows, if they
want a divorce.
"The longer period of time makes it more likely they are not going to
Rep. Ernie Alexander, the bill's primary sponsor. "We're trying to hold the
marriage together for
the sake of the children.
"We know that in one-parent families, a child is twice as likely to drop
out of school,
three times as likely to become pregnant as a teenager, six times more likely to
be in poverty and
12 times more likely to be incarcerated." He cited a study that the change
could cut the divorce
rate by 23 percent.
That's a reasonable estimate. Maryland has the 8th lowest divorce rate (3.1
year per 1,000 people), largely because it requires a year of living apart
before a divorce can be
granted, and two years if the divorce is contested. By contrast, Vermont has
the same six-month
minimum as Louisiana, and a divorce rate of 3.9 per thousand.
Senator Bob Kostelka, a retired judge who led the fight for the law in
recalled that divorces "were often granted before the couple had worked out
issues of child
custody and support. That removed the option of reconciliation, because they
would be divorced
before they had settled important issues," that might have prompted the couple
He adds that the change in the law, simply restores what had been the law
requiring a year
of separation - before No Fault Divorce made things easier. "The real people who
suffer in a
divorce are the minor children. This is a way to lead to more reconciliation
and less divorce and
more families staying together for the sake of the child," he affirmed.
John Crouch, Director of Americans for Divorce Reform in Arlington, VA and
lawyer himself, was jubilant over the measure. "It is an immensely good sign
that something like
this would pass. Passing laws can change the way people think about divorce. No
Fault did that
in the other direction."
The stiffer law was championed by the Louisiana Family Forum, an affiliate
of Focus on
the Family, led by Judge Darrell White (ret.) who observed, "It is a miracle
that this thing ended
up passing. We had divorce bar opposition and domestic violence opposition.
asked, "If people are unhappy, why should they be forced to stay together?."
Judge White had answers. First, he cited a poll taken in Louisiana which
found that 60
percent of Louisianans felt that "Divorce should be more difficult to get for
couples with children
than other couples." A TIME-CNN poll reported that 61 percent of a national
Second, he cited a 2001 study by the Louisiana Law Institute which urged
to consider a number of reforms of No Fault, one of which was a longer cooling
Third, he cited a study by Dr. Linda Waite which revealed that "86 percent
married people who stick it out, find that, five years later, their marriages
are happier" Three-
fifths who said their marriage was unhappy in the late '80s and who stayed
married, said their
marriage was either "very happy" or "happy" when re-interviewed in the early
Thus, sociology backs up the vows taken by billions of couples over
centuries, that it is
wise to commit to one another "for better, for worse till death do us part."
Every marriage goes
through times which are "worse." But if couples honor their vows, most marriages
The Senate bill added an amendment that if one party has been physically or
abused, or if a court protection order is issued, the six-month separation
period remains in place.
One problem is that Louisiana has not published divorce data for years.
counties (called parishes) are required to report divorces, some refused to do
so. Therefore, if the
stronger law results in fewer divorces, no one will know since there is no data.
Neither of the
bill's sponsors knew this fact, and said they'd look into it.
Nevertheless, I predict many states will follow Louisiana's pioneering step
of requiring a
year's separation if children are involved. Some states like Alabama allow a
divorce in 30
DAYS, and has one of America's highest divorce rates.
Shouldn't the law encourage marriage, rather than divorce?
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