June 1, 2011
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
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
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.”