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June 5, 2013
Column #1,658
Divorce Reform Moving in Three States
By Mike McManus

“My family is broken. It was a unilateral decision,” said Greg Griffin, explaining what motivated him to try to change Georgia’s divorce law which allows one person to unilaterally divorce another. This “No Fault Divorce” is universal in America.

However, it comes as a shock to those who get a divorce they did not want. What was entered into by two people willingly can be terminated by one unhappy mate. In the old days a spouse would have to prove a partner guilty of a fault such as abuse, adultery or abandonment. “No Fault” simply requires one spouse to say the marriage is “irreconcilable.”

Griffin went to the Georgia Family Council which told him that they had worked on Divorce Reform several years ago without success. However, GFC made a small grant to Griffin’s non-profit, Allies for Family Life, to help him work on what he calls “my passion.”

He met with 21 of the state’s 56 senators, from 5 to 40 minutes – a remarkable achievement for a pastor/counselor working alone. He was confident a bill would pass the Senate Judiciary Committee, though it did not. During this year’s General Assembly, he was there every day. The House did introduce HB 684 that he is optimistic about for next year.

It is based on the Parental Divorce Reduction Act (PDRA) that I helped draft for the Coalition for Divorce Reform (www.divorcereform.us). Its goal is to reduce “preventable” divorces where minor children are involved. It would require parents to take a 4-hour course on the impact of divorce on children BEFORE any divorce can be filed. They would then have to wait 45 days of “discernment,” providing an opportunity for “reflection and reconciliation. “

If the divorce is filed, they would have to take 4 more hours of classes to improve their skills of communication and conflict resolution. These educational elements are not required by any state today.

However, a divorce would not be granted for a year following the initiation of classes. At present, Georgia requires only a 30-day waiting period for the divorce.

The North Carolina Family Policy Council asked me to write an article outlining what might be done. I noted that the U.S. divorce rate of 23% after 5 years is triple the 8% rate of Britain or France. Why? If a wife wants a divorce in England, and the husband is opposed, the divorce will not be granted for five years, and six years in France according to Andrew Cherlin’s book, The Marriage-Go-Round. Five or six years allows a lot of time for reconciliation!

By contrast, in the U.S., an astonishing 25 states have a ZERO waiting period or only 20-60 days like Georgia. “That permits no time for tempers to cool down,” I wrote. North Carolina is one of seven states that require a year’s delay. Result: its divorce rate is in the lower third of America.

However, my article and the Family Policy Council persuaded Sen. Austin Allran and two others to introduce the Healthy Marriage Act requiring a two-year delay – that would be America’s longest. During that time of reflection and discernment, the couple could remain under the same roof. Every state with a delay requires couples to move apart – which only encourages them to begin dating.

States should promote reconciliation, not divorce.

The bill had the same educational elements as Georgia’s – classes on the impact of divorce on kids before a divorce is filed and classes to improve conflict resolution skills.

Unfortunately, the bill never got a hearing.

However, three very similar bills were introduced in Texas led by Texas Values, the Family Policy Council for that state, championed by its director, Jonathan Saenz, who helped organize two days of hearings. “It was the first time that legislators were aware we had 82,000 divorces involving 64,000 children. It came as a surprise to them that most states have a longer waiting period than Texas” (60 days).

Legislators were encouraged to hear that “there are thoughtful solutions which have some success,” such as longer waiting periods, Saenz told me. “We would not be the first to do it, which gave them some comfort.

“Legislators have not seen the child as an innocent victim of divorce, and they want to do what is in the best interest of the child – which is to have both a mom and dad together.”

A consensus is emerging in Texas to increase the waiting period from 60 days to 6 months and to require the same educational elements proposed in Georgia and North Carolina.

I predict some states will pass Divorce Reform next year. It’s about time!

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