In Spokane, Wash., a judge delays a woman's divorce from her
abusive husband when he learns that she's pregnant.
Georgia and several other states consider whether to lengthen the
waiting period before marriages can be legally ended. Elsewhere, a
growing movement is under way to promote "collaborative divorce," in
which couples agree to settle such issues as child custody and
finances without going to court - taking some of the civil war, in
theory, out of marital breakups.
How - or even whether - to dissolve troubled marriages is
becoming a prominent topic of public discussion and political
It's part of the generally conservative marriage movement which
includes the option in several states (Arkansas, Louisiana, and
Arizona) to choose more restrictive "covenant marriages" and resists
same-sex marriages. But the issue crosses ideological and political
lines - liberals and conservatives alike worry about the high rates
of divorce in this country - and in many ways it comes down to
government's role in this most personal of decisions.
In addition, there are a growing number of laws that aren't
directly related to the availability of divorce but could affect the
instances and impact of failed marriages. Some provide "marriage
skills" education in public schools as a way of avoiding divorce;
others mandate "custody counseling" for divorce cases involving
"Half the states now have provisions for it or require it," says
John Crouch, executive director of Americans for Divorce Reform, a
small, all-volunteer group in Arlington, Va.
Critics have said that no-fault divorce laws led to an increase
in US divorce rates. But recent research indicates that about 10
years after states pass such laws, divorce rates return to previous
levels. Also, studies show that such "unilateral divorce" helps
reduce the rate of domestic violence and suicide among women.
But now that a generation of Americans - and especially their
children - have grown up during a period when divorce lost much of
its social stigma and become easier to get, questions are being
raised about the practice.
A bill being considered by the Georgia Legislature would extend
the waiting period for divorce from 30 days to four months for
couples without children and to six months for couples with
children. The waiting period could be waived in cases involving
spouse abuse, but parents would have to attend special classes on
how divorce affects children.
While several states are moving in the same direction, similar
bills have been considered and rejected in some states, including
New Hampshire and Colorado. Lawmakers in New York - one of the last
states which still do not grant no-fault divorces - are debating the
need to make divorce easier. Last month, Michigan Gov. Jennifer
Granholm vetoed bills that would encourage premarital counseling for
couples and require counseling for couples with children who seek
"Let me be clear: Marriage preservation is a very important
issue," Governor Granholm wrote in her veto letter. "But the
decisions men and women make about marriage are private decisions. …