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McManus - Ethics & Religion
June 14, 2006
Column 1,294

Louisiana 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 divorce," explained
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 divorces a
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 Louisiana's Senate,
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 to reconcile.

     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 a divorce
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. Some legislators
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 sample agreed.

     Second, he cited a 2001 study by the Louisiana Law Institute which urged the legislature
to consider a number of reforms of No Fault, one of which was a longer cooling off period.

     Third, he cited a study by Dr. Linda Waite which revealed that "86 percent of unhappily
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 1990s.

     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 get "better."

     The Senate bill added an amendment that if one party has been physically or sexually
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. Although
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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