Divorce laws are changing – for better and for worse: Part I

State laws can sometimes act as a barometer of a state’s social climate, and even America’s social climate. In particular, you can often glean a lot about a state by its laws governing marriage, divorce and child custody.

While Missouri readers will be primarily concerned with family law issues here in Missouri, it is worth noting that marriage/divorce/custody laws in other states tend to be a reflection of America’s sometimes contradictory social values. Some states are trying to make divorce and custody disputes faster and more amicable while other states are pushing for legal changes that make the divorce process lengthier and more burdensome.

A good example of the latter is Missouri’s neighbor to the south. In Arkansas, couples can’t even file for divorce until they have been separated for at least 18 months. After that, the standard divorce processing time is 540 days. In summary, a divorce in Arkansas can take nearly three years.

Three other states – Maryland, South Carolina and North Carolina – similarly require a waiting or separation period of one year. In recent years, some states have passed laws requiring parenting classes for couples who have children and are seeking a divorce. Some states require couples to attend counseling sessions before a divorce can be granted.

Laws and requirements like these are often passed by legislators who make no secret of their agenda: To dissuade couples from getting divorced by making the process longer, more difficult and more expensive. But such laws rarely produce that outcome, in part, because they are based on an incorrect premise: That divorce is too easy.

There are many things that can be said about divorce, but “easy” is not one of them. The vast majority of people who get divorced don’t make the decision on a whim. Rather, they come to the decision after struggling unhappily in a marriage, sometimes for years. Even under the best circumstances, divorces take enough time to complete that few could honestly say they didn’t have time to think it over.

Moreover, many couples also struggle financially during a divorce and child custody dispute. Is it fair or reasonable to add additional waiting time and more costs by requiring these couples to attend parenting classes or counseling sessions (without regard to whether or not such classes would even be helpful or appropriate)?

Please check back later this week as we continue our discussion.

Source: Newsweek, “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do in Arkansas; Why Divorce Laws Are Getting Stricter,” Tracey Harrington McCoy, May 17, 2015

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