Divorce Reform Legislation Proposed
Doherty and Sears argue that two widespread misconceptions about divorcethat most divorces occur in unhappy and high conflict marriages, and most divorcing couples do not consider the possibility of reconciliationare false. They cite new research that shows that the majority of couples who divorce had marriages that were very similar to the marriages of couples who remain married (i.e., average happiness and low levels of marital conflict). Among the report’s major findings:
Special Report - November 4, 2011
Many divorces in the United States are unnecessary and occur in low-conflict marriages that could be saved, according to a new report from the Institute for American Values. Released last month, the report, “Second Chances: A Proposal to Reduce Unnecessary Divorce,” includes the results of new research on divorce, along with proposed legislation for states to adopt that the authors contend could result in saving thousands of marriages, and reduce the cost of divorce for both children and taxpayers. The principal investigators of the report were William J. Doherty, professor of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota, and Leah Ward Sears, retired Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court.
- Over half of U.S. divorces occur in low conflict marriages.
- 40 percent of U.S. couples in the divorce process report that either one or both are interested in possible reconciliation.
- A modest reduction in the divorce rate would benefit over 400,000 children in the United States every year.
- A reduction in the divorce rate would result in significant savings for U.S. taxpayers.
Doherty and Sears propose model legislation, known as the “Second Chances Act,” for state legislatures to adopt. The model legislation, which is included in the full report, contains the following three recommendations:
- Extend the waiting period for divorce to at least one year. Waiting periods currently vary throughout the states, ranging from no waiting period in Idaho to 30 days in Alabama and six months in California (North Carolina aready has a waiting period of one year). As part of this proposal, they also recommend a “voluntary early notification letter” for individuals to use to let their spouses know their intention to file for divorce before they actually file. The authors of the report explain, “The idea behind this tool is that a spouse who wants to raise serious concerns but also to preserve the marriage has a structured processusing a legally recognized document that communicates the gravity of the situationto inform his or her partner that divorce is a clear risk unless they both work on solving their problems.”
- Require pre-filing education for parents of minor children considering divorce, with a module on reconciliation and a module on a non-adversarial approach to divorce. This includes a recommendation that states require a four-hour parent education course (for married couples with children) before either spouse may file for a divorce.
- Create university-based centers of excellence to improve the education available to couples at risk of divorce.
“This proposal contains a number of excellent recommendations for reforming divorce in the United States, and we are excited to see a national initiative of this magnitude launched that also includes an education component for couples with minor children who are on the brink of divorce,” said Alysse ElHage, associate director of research at the North Carolina Family Policy Council. “We have proposed a number of similar recommendations that are contained in the ‘Second Chances Act,’ including extending North Carolina’s waiting period for divorce from one to two years and requiring divorce education for married couples with children, and we hope that lawmakers in North Carolina will consider the proposed model legislation in this report and work toward implementing some of the needed changes to divorce law in our state.”
For more information on divorce law in North Carolina, including needed reforms, read our Fall 2010 magazine article, “Broken Families, Splintered Lives.”
Census Marriage and Divorce Details
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The Price of Family Fragmentation- FNC - Jul/Aug 2008
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