Where love and commitment aren’t enough to hold a marriage together, a couple of Oklahoma legislators have a better idea. They want to make laws to keep unhappy couples together.
Rep. Arthur Hulbert of Fort Gibson has proposed a bill that would double the minimum time it takes for couples to get a divorce. Another lawmaker, Reb. Sean Roberts, wants to get rid of Oklahoma’s no-fault divorce law.
Hulbert told the Associated Press his bill would give divorcing couples more time to consider reconciliation. Citing Oklahoma’s unusually high divorce rate, he said “society only benefits if we strengthen the family.”
Besides several pragmatic and legal concerns, Hulbert’s quote leaves us wondering who is the “we” to which he refers. Does he assert that society only benefits if lawmakers strengthen families? Does he assert families can’t stand up without the state’s legal scaffolding to hold them together? And that Oklahoma’s legal scaffolding for families is so finely tuned, lawmakers can say with confidence an adjustment in waiting periods for divorce would do less harm than whatever good it might accomplish?
As to providing more legally mandated time for reconciliation, couples may always choose to reconcile and remarry after a divorce. In our experience, we’ve seen no evidence that couples who would not reconcile during the current 90 day waiting period would otherwise reconcile in the fourth, fifth or sixth month after deciding on a divorce.
Hulbert’s bill ostensibly provides exceptions to the proposed six-month-wait in cases involving adultery, cruelty, abandonment, abuse and drunkenness. Those exceptions are in turn problematic.
When questions arise, only a court can determine whether allegations of adultery, cruelty or drunkenness have merit. Waiting for a court to hold a hearing on whether there was adultery or habitual drunkenness can easily render the exemption moot – forcing all couples to wait six months or more just to have a hearing on whether their speedy-divorce exemption is valid.
Spouses eager to end a difficult relationship could be encouraged to admit to adultery or alcoholism even though they were neither unfaithful nor intemperate. Such admissions might become a matter of record that could come back to haunt the spouse who hastily admitted to misbehavior simply to end a difficult marriage.
Efforts to Preserve Matrimony May Increase Acrimony
Roberts’ bill that would end no fault divorce in Oklahoma could just as well increase acrimony as it would tend to preserve matrimony. In no fault divorce, incompatibility is sufficient grounds for divorce. Advocates for no-fault divorce say it provides a safety valve against domestic violence, and helps to reduce suicide rates. A requirement that divorcing spouses prove the other partner did wrong invites false or exaggerated legal claims.
Prior to the adoption of near universal no-fault divorce laws nationwide, some states allowed a lengthy separation as grounds for divorce in lieu of a no-fault filing. In those cases, divorcing spouses have an incentive to take children into impermanent households in lieu of establishing new, more stable families after an unsuccessful marriage.
For our part, as Tulsa divorce attorneys, we might have a financial incentive to remain silent about these proposed laws. An end to no-fault divorce would provide a new source of contested divorce cases that would cost clients far more than today’s simple divorce filings. An extended waiting period could lead to a surge of clients asking us to find proof of adultery or drunkenness to speed their cases along.
Our practical experience with divorcing partners tells us that, for many people, the best resolution to an untenable marriage is to part ways as painlessly as possible. Explaining to a court why things didn’t work out seldom makes things better. When a marriage is irreparably broken, all the king’s horses and all the kings men can’t put it back together again. In those cases, the best thing the state can do to strengthen families is to allow adults the freedom to move on and build a stronger family with a more compatible partner.
Free Consultation: Tulsa Family Lawyer
Wirth Law Office’s Tulsa divorce attorneys routinely work with spouses in difficult situations. For answers to your questions about divorce in Oklahoma, contact our Tulsa family lawyers for a free consultation at (918) 879-1681. You may also send us your question using the form at the top of this page.