Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, UT. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.
SALT LAKE CITY – House Bill 316, entitled “Divorce Waiting Period Amendments,” introduced in the Utah Legislature’s 2012 General Session, has been signed by the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate; draft of the enrolled bill has been prepared today and will be submitted for signature by the Governor. For how Southern Utah representatives and senators voted, see below.*
In pertinent part, the statute governing when a decree of divorce becomes absolute is amended to provide that no hearing for the decree of divorce may be held until 90 days has elapsed from the filing of the complaint. The amended statute does authorize the court to make interim orders and does allow a court to waive the 90-day waiting period on finding of extraordinary circumstances.
The amended statute also strikes certain existing provisions requiring attendance at a mandatory course for divorcing parents as a condition to the divorce.
OPINION – Slowing down couples that want to divorce is no easy task. Trust me. It’s what I do every day in my work as a marriage and family therapist. I’m sure I use the phrase “let’s slow this down” multiple times per day in my attempts to help individuals and couples understand what’s going on between them and around them as they contemplate ending their marriages. I believe it’s my job to hold their marriage while they figure out what they want to do with it.
Family, community, and churches used to be the institutions that informally held marriages in place while partners considered the stark reality of what they’re about to do to themselves and their children. It’s so easy to get divorced now that it’s not uncommon for these marriage stakeholders to learn about the divorce after it’s already happened. In other words, they never had a chance to influence and slow down such a weighty decision.
Consequently, I am a big supporter of House Bill 316, the “Divorce Waiting Period Amendment,” which requires couples to wait 90 days after they file their divorce papers to have a hearing on their divorce. While I ultimately recognize that no one, especially government, is going to change a couple’s mind about their marriage, providing a space to reconsider and possibly get reparative help is a good thing.
The decision to divorce is interlaced with competing and confusing emotions that often aren’t understood until after the marriage has been dissolved. A waiting period can buy time for the couple to ask some hard questions of themselves and each other as they make sense of how they got to this point and whether or not they want to keep going.
Although I would rather see a bill that would require marriage education before couples tie the knot, giving feuding couples an opportunity to reconsider is a noble attempt at supporting marriages and families. Our government has a right to care about marriage, as broken families put a strain on so many state and federal resources.
Clearly there are marriages that put children and individuals in physical and sexual danger and need to be terminated as quickly as possible; Utah’s statute as amended allows the courts to make exceptions in extraordinary circumstances.
However, most divorces aren’t as urgent as people believe. The vast majority of couples divorcing today could, with effective treatment and education, fix the very problems they’re certain are unfixable. So, since there is now going to be a 90-day waiting period for divorcing couples, I genuinely hope couples will use this time to seriously consider how they got to the point of divorce and what they might do to turn things around.
One of my favorite resources to help individuals reconsider divorce is a series of articles assembled by Diane Sollee, founder of the Smart Marriages coalition. You can read Sollee’s collection online through this hyperlink.
Our lawmakers understand the need to give couples a cooling-off period to consider the serious consequences of divorce. Even though they recognize that individuals have the right to ultimately choose divorce, slowing down that decision-making process won’t hurt anyone. In fact, it might be the very thing that could give couples a second chance. I hope couples will take advantage of that time to repair and restore what they thought was destroyed.
* H.B. 316 passed the House with 43 yeas, 26 nays and 6 not voting. From Southern Utah, Reps. Last, Vickers, Snow and Ipson voted yea, Rep. Watkins voted nay, and Rep. Noel did not cast a vote.
The bill passed the Senate with 24 yeas, 5 nays and no abstentions. From Southern Utah, Sens. Anderson, Urquhart and Hinkins all voted yea.
Joyce Kuzmanic contributed the news portion of this article.
Copyright 2012 St. George News.