One Year Divorce
Two state senators on the North Dakota Senate Judiciary Committee have proposed legislation that would require couples with children to wait a year before a divorce is finalized in that state. Senators Margaret Sitte and Oley Larsen introduced Senate Bill 2367 that would mandate divorcing couples would need to wait one year and attend at least 10, one-hour sessions with a marriage counselor.
The bill’s sponsors said they want people to “Think about the long-term impacts instead of over reacting and getting divorced so quickly and not really fully considering the effects on the children.” The bill would affect married couples with children and marriages with substantiated allegations of domestic abuse would be exempt. Obviously, it would not be fair to punish victims of domestic violence and make them wait a year for a divorce to be finalized. However, there is a requirement that within the one-year waiting period, couples would need to participate jointly or separately in at least 10 one-hour marriage counseling sessions. The bill is not exactly clear on who would pay for the counseling and says that it could be provided by a paid or volunteer counselor, clergy member or any state-certified or licensed marriage mediator. At the end of the year and upon completion of the 10 counseling sessions, a final divorce decree would be granted when both spouses have shown a proof of completion of the marital counseling to the court.
Supporters of the bill point to the negative impact divorce has on children, and note that children of divorce are more likely to live in poverty, drop out of school and become involved in crime and drug abuse. The hope is that the counseling could save marriages and reduce the trauma and stress experienced by children involved in a split, even if the marriage cannot be saved and eventually ends in divorce anyway. However, not everyone is a fan of the proposed legislation and critics have pointed out that there is no funding for the 10 mandatory counseling sessions in the bill and that it would be a financial burden for the divorcing couples to pay for professional counseling.
Critics of the bill say forcing people to attend counseling sessions together could be a bad idea that might make a marginal situation even worse. Others say there is a danger that divorcing spouses might falsely allege domestic abuse to negate the waiting period. Divorce is a stressful time for everyone involved no matter how it is approached, but more government intervention is not necessarily the best fix. The Senate Judiciary Committee has not taken any action on the bill yet but at this point it does not look like it has enough support to become law.