N.D. divorce bill debated

BISMARCK—North Dakotans wanting to get a divorce would need to wait one year and go through mandatory marriage counseling if a proposed law is approved.

Senate Bill 2367 would affect married couples with children. Marriages with substantiated allegations of domestic abuse would be exempt.

Within the one-year waiting period, couples would need to participate jointly or separately in at least 10 one-hour marriage counseling sessions. The counseling could be provided by a paid or volunteer counselor, clergy member or any state-certified or licensed marriage mediator.

At least four counseling sessions would need to focus on post-marital financial planning.

A final divorce decree would not be granted or a final order entered until each party submits to the court certification of completion of the marital counseling.

Bill supporters emphasized the negative impact that divorce has on children, citing research that these children are more apt to live in poverty, do worse in school and are involved more frequently in crime and drug abuse.

However, the State Bar Association of North Dakota said the bill would mean additional expense for clients, delay their getting on with their lives and create additional opportunity for financial mischief and physical violence.

Bill sponsor Sen. Oley Larsen, R-Minot, said the goal is to help reach agreements acceptable to both parties, to promote the children’s developmental needs and to prepare parents for future co-parenting roles if they do divorce.

“If we can save marriages or if we can have discussion if the marriage is not going to last to have a smooth transition, I think that will help the kids, and that’s what this bill is about,” Larsen said.

From 2005 to 2009, there were 9,574 divorces in North Dakota, said Tom Freier, executive director of the North Dakota Family Alliance. Of these, 4,543 divorces involved 7,985 minor children, he said.

Sen. Stan Lyson, R-Williston, said bill supporters didn’t provide information about the effect on children who live with parents who stay married even though they dislike each other.

Freier said studies show the most important thing is an intact home and family.

“The damage of a family breakup is greater than mom and dad not getting along all the time,” he said.

Sen. Curtis Olafson, R-Edinburg, asked Freier how he could argue to keep people in a marriage for another year when there’s been infidelity.

“There is no marriage where the two individuals cannot make a decision that, no matter what the cause of their wanting to have a divorce, that it cannot be saved,” Freier said.

Sen. Dave Nething, R-Jamestown, asked about the “substantiated allegations of domestic abuse” exception and said it was subjective. Janelle Moos of the North Dakota Council on Abused Women’s Services also wanted more clarification on what the wording meant.

“I think we have to be very cognizant of victims that either do or don’t come forward publicly,” she said.

She expressed concern about required marriage counseling for victims and perpetrators.

The Rev. Paul Schauer of Wilton, N.D., also spoke against the bill. Schauer, who is divorced, said he was “somewhat offended” about the comments made about divorced people and their children.

As a pastor who has counseled couples going through divorce, he said he was “deeply opposed” to forced counseling.

“Counseling works best when a person recognizes that they need help and that they freely choose to seek help,” he said. “If you force someone to see a counselor, there’s very little hope for growth.”

If counseling was required, Schauer said the number of couples divorcing would overwhelm his time. He also said the bill allows couples to do the counseling together or apart.

“If I don’t meet with them as a couple, it’s not going to work,” he said.

He also questioned what would determine if someone has successfully completed counseling, saying someone could just sit there and refuse to talk during the sessions.

“If we’re realistic about this, if a partner has reached the point of filing for divorce, no amount of marital counseling will fix that,” Schauer said. “Counseling is not a magical treatment … if they’ve filed for divorce, the plane has already left the runway.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee did not take immediate action on the bill.

9 thoughts on “N.D. divorce bill debated

  1. You have got to be kidding! How dare the State of North Dakota tell me or anyone else that a couple filing for divorce must wait one year and go through counseling! We are not children here and the State of North Dakota aren’t our parents. The state doesn’t need to stick their noses in our private affairs. There is too much government control already,

  2. I was married for twenty years with three children. I watched how a divorce affects each child as they went from teens to adults. Divorce effected each one in their own way. There is know doubt that children have some lasting effects when Mom and Dad get divorced. Todays classrooms have 50/50 splits with parnets who are together and one’s that are divorced.
    It’s time we look at a divorce cost bill that is publised for the state of North Dakota. We should take the time to educate the couple before they want to get married with the facts of what If’s.
    It’s to easy to get married, make it tougher on the front end.

  3. FOREMOST – UNCONSTITUTIONAL!!! So, who what government beauricrat is going to be designated when this year starts and what counselor is acceptable? Absolutely no way should government be meddling in this!! WAY too many circumstances that lead to needing a divorce, including some situations that require immediate separation for the safety, emotional and mental and physical of the spouse and/or children! Under no circumstances do I want anymore government involvement in such intimate issues that may/do lead to the dissolution of a marraige!! Life is hard enough!!Actually, this just makes me angrier the more I think about it!!! Absolutely wrong!! It would bet it would even be ruled unconstitutional!! Kudos to the couples that CHOOSE to go to counseling to work things out if possible, but their CHOICE!! We need to remain free from government intervention in our personal lives….that’s what our constitution guarentees us. When criminal abuse is involved, that different, and police/court need to be there to protect us. Ridiculous!!

  4. The courts role in divorce should be fair and equitable distribution of assetts, fair and ENFORCED child support, and fair and enforced visitation….DONE!

  5. Could it be that the state wants to ensure that the parents do some financial planning so that their children are cared for? Most bills have to do with money. Maybe the writers of this bill think that if parents have a financial plan, the state will be much less likely to end up caring for their children (financially). And, I agree with Marc in that it should be much tougher to get married in the first place.

  6. The idea behind this proposal is good. A few remarks:

    – Every divorce involving children is different. There is no one fix it all,
    – Counseling works, but only if parents participate voluntarily,
    – It does not work in all situations, for example in cases of extreme violence,
    – Why a period of a year? Sounds a long time for me. Why not letting the parents who want to divorce agree on the length of the period?
    – Breaking up the marriage and then going through a short but effective process of divorce mediation might bring better results for the children of divorce
    – If the marriage is not saved after a year, the children have suffered a year more of uncertainty and conflict

    • Not just extreme violence, any kind of personal abuse. Also counseling should never be forced upon a spouse who is in an abusive relationship – it is very dangerous. That in and of itself is abusive to the abused spouse (typically the wife). I would be curious as to Freier’s personal history cuz this smells like a personal agenda.

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