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June 1, 2011

Column #1,553

Eleven Years Ended in 11 Days

By Mike McManus

            I received a moving note from Jennifer Rivera who got a divorce she did not want: “ After being together for 11½ years, the Family Court system of Miami-Dade County was able to legally end it in 11 days.”

            “If we had more time to wait it out, such as legalized separation, our divorce would never have happened.”  She offered to serve as a volunteer in fighting for Divorce Reform, which is very unusual. Most people who get a divorce they did not want, blame their ex- but never the divorce system.

            However, the system is producing at least twice as many divorces as is reasonable. Therefore, I put her in touch with the Florida Family Policy Council, an affiliate of Focus on the Family.  These are the most effective voices on behalf of families in state capitals.

            When the couple stood before the judge, they were holding hands and crying.  That night they had dinner together, and spent the night together.  This is an example of a divorce that should never have happened.

            There was no infidelity and few fights, but there was one big issue: an interfering mother-in-law. They dated eight years.  In their first two years of marriage, Jen was closer to her mother-in-law than to her own mother.  When they mentioned they were saving for a house down payment, his mother invited them to move into a guestroom to save more money.

“It was the worst year of my life,.” Jen says.  The two women fought over everything. What’s worse, Christopher did not back up his wife, and never stood up to his mom, feeling guilty for living there rent-free.

They moved out after a year, but on Christmas Day, as he handed her a Christmas present, he said he thought they should get divorced. DIVORCED?  The word never crossed her mind.  But she felt she could not force him to stay with her.

A child of divorce herself, Jen acquiesced, and fell into depression. Like many couples, their marriage preparation was only meeting with the pastor, a family friend, to chat. 

Florida is one of 32 states with no waiting period.  What’s that like?

“It was like a Drive-Thru Divorce. That’s how it felt. They have a waiting period to get a marriage license,” she says. “There should be a waiting period to get a divorce. And we could have benefitted from having classes.”

About a dozen states are considering a “Parental Divorce Reduction Act” that would require couples with minor children to undergo a “Year of Reflection and Reconciliation,” and to take three kinds of courses:

·         The Effects of Divorce on Children:  This is likely to be a video series that has to be taken even before filing for divorce. It will confront divorcing parents, who tend to rationalize that “Kids will get over it,” with the harsh facts about the negative impact of divorce on children.

 

·         The Effects of Divorce on Adults, with data on how many people are happier after divorce, the escalating likelihood of a second and third divorce, and how many wish they had never divorced. The financial impact will be detailed, how dads feel about their limited time with their children and many fathers never see their children again.

 

·         Skills Building Classes would be taken during the year, to help the couple improve their communication, particularly their ability to resolve conflict.

There are 21 states which already have a minimum waiting period.  They vary from a mere 30 days in Missouri and Alabama to 18 months in New Jersey.

            Maryland, Illinois and Pennsylvania require a year, but 2 years if the divorced is contested. Their divorce rate is half of that of nine states with a zero requirement, such as Wyoming, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi and Florida. 

            Why?  A year allows time to reconcile, exactly what Jennifer Rivera suspected, rather than the “Drive Thru Divorce” that she got.

            The good news is that a dozen states are considering the Parental Divorce Reduction Act.  For a state like Maryland that already requires a year, it should not be hard to sell the concept of requiring couples to use that time to learn about the impact of divorce on kids, adults and learning communication skills.  Adding those elements would certainly cut their divorce rates.

            This ought to become a major political goal of religious leaders who believe in traditional marriage, but have not taken on this issue.

            They should consider Jennifer Rivera, who is retaining her husband’s name, hoping for reconciliation, who says, “I want to help other people avoid what I’ve gone through.”

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