Should State Laws Inject More Blame into Divorce?

Article excerpt

Though most attorneys don't want no-fault divorce laws changed, some politicians believe bringing blame back into breakups would curb the tide of failed marriages.

In a recent survey conducted by the American Bar Association, 84 percent of family lawyers across the country said they oppose rescinding no-fault divorce laws, which allow spouses to split up without assignment of blame.

"No single magic bullet is the answer. Fault was taken out of divorce 25 years ago to promote harmony and reduce fighting," said Ira Lurvey, chair of the ABA's 11,000 member family law section. But some state officials believe a strong connection exists between no-fault divorce laws, present in some form in all 50 states, and high numbers of failed marriages. Rep. Mike O'Neal, R-Enid, has worked for the last two years to enact legislation which would make it more difficult for couples to obtain a divorce. He would like to see "incompatibility," one of the 12 reasons for which couples may divorce, removed as a basis for divorce. "It's harder to fire an employee than it is to obtain a divorce from your wife," said O'Neal. The Enid representative argues that marriage in Oklahoma has become a sort of notarized dating. O'Neal is not alone in his movement to revise no-fault divorce. "Why should the state sanction marriage if it doesn't mean anything?" said Sen. Howard Hendrick, R-Bethany. Hendrick believes that Oklahoma should adopt a system whereby couples whose divorce is based upon incompatibility would have to wait up to a year to obtain the decree. Hendrick also has considered a bifurcated marriage license system in which couples obtain either a marriage of commitment license or a marriage of convenience license. If the couple had a marriage of commitment, they could not get a no-fault divorce. "It's a kind of truth-in-marriage system," Hendrick said. Hendrick has received support for his ideas from other conservatives as well. "We make divorce too easy in Oklahoma," said Rep. William D. Graves, R-Oklahoma City. "Marriage is a fundamental basic institution created by God ... the children involved are the most harmed." Revising no-fault divorce, said Graves, is an issue he will consider next session if re-elected. Graves also questions the motives of attorneys who oppose a revamping of no-fault divorce. "I imagine the reason lawyers don't want to revise (divorce laws) is because it would cut down on divorces." Family lawyer Lundy Partin says such reasoning is ill-conceived, because attorneys fees would actually increase if no-fault divorce were changed. Partin maintains that attorneys would spend more time having to prove issues of who is to blame. "It would run up attorneys fees," said Partin. Oklahoma is one of several states with legislatures considering changing divorce laws. …