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The consequences of making it harder to divorce

The Texas legislature is considering two bills that will make it more difficult for couples to divorce. According to State Representative Matt Krause, who proposed both measures, passing them would be a means to "reinforce the sanctity of marriage." But there would likely be a number of unintended consequences as well. Indeed, the bills seem poised to make divorce more expensive, more rancorous, and more traumatizing for any children involved.

Longer waiting periods

Currently, couples in Texas must endure a waiting period of 60 days before their divorce can be finalized. If House Bill 65 passes into law, however, the waiting period would increase to 180 days for couples with minor children, couples with children still in high school, and couples with adult disabled children still living at home.

While Mr. Krause posits that this may lead some couples who enter the process to change their minds and make a second go at marriage, the legislation appears to have some serious drawbacks. In some cases, couples may indeed reconcile; but critics note that the more common outcome will likely be increased tension and animosity between the spouses, which can be damaging to all parties involved-especially the children. Moreover, the drawn-out process is almost certain to entail an uptick in attorneys' fees.

No more no-fault

More concerning still is Senate Bill 93, which seeks to end "insupportability" divorce for couples with children. Often referred to as 'no-fault' divorces, these are cases where spouses simply agree that their marriage is not working and decide to part ways.

Mr. Krause's proposal could put an end to such divorces. If the other spouse did not agree, a divorce petitioner would need to establish grounds for divorce that are recognized by Texas law. As one legal critic noted, "You've got to allege some type of fault...such as abandonment, adultery, mental cruelty, and the like."

This would clearly play to the advantage of abusive and neglectful spouses. It is, simply put, very difficult to prove abuse in court - especially if mistreatment is psychological in nature. If a victim is unable to establish that abusive behavior is indeed taking place in the home, s/he may be denied grounds for divorce and be forced to endure the abuse in perpetuity. A "controlling" spouse could more effectively play the system, and coerce the other spouse to make unreasonable concessions to get a divorce. (That already happens. We just think it will increase if the new law is passed.)

Preserving the institution of marriage

"I think when we went to no-fault divorce in the 1970s, it in some ways cheapened the institution of marriage," Mr. Krause said.

It may be the case that some people don't take marriage seriously, and divorce too casually. Still, the culture has changed since the 70s, and we doubt that the state can make better decisions about terminating marriage than individuals themselves. We do know that legal expense, and the duration and pain of divorce, will increase for some people.

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