The Second Chances Act: a modest proposal to reduce unnecessary divorce proposed by former Georgia Chief Justice Leah Sears and family relations professor William Doherty.
It is a brilliant piece of work by two of the nation’s leading pro-marriage liberals.
It proposes new model legislation that includes a one-year waiting period for divorce, along with a requirement that parents of minor children considering divorce take a short online divorced parenting education course, which would include information on reconciliation.
By sending their mates a formal letter of notice, spouses could trigger the one-year waiting period without actually filing for divorce.
But in cases of domestic violence, these requirements would be waived.
The Second Chances Act started when Hennepin County, Minn., Judge Bruce Peterson observed that at least some of the people he was seeing in his family court looked as if they needed a “rest stop” on the “divorce superhighway.”
According to Sears and Doherty, Judge Peterson’s widely acknowledged court system saw attempts to meet almost every need of divorcing couples – legal and financial assistance, protection orders, parenting education, and more – except for reconciliation.
By the time a person files for divorce the marriage is already dead. That’s the assumption of the entire legal system.
Surprisingly no one really had ever asked how many people filing for divorce might be interested in reconciliation.
Testing that assumption, Doherty teamed up with colleagues to do some groundbreaking original research.
And according to new research, about 40 percent of U.S. couples already well into the divorce process say that one or both of them are interested in the possibility of reconciliation. This shocked the family law community.
In addition, in about 10 percent of divorces, both the husband and the wife are interested inreconciliation. Sears and Doherty said the finding is stunning.
It clearly suggests that today’s very high U.S. divorce rate is not only costly to taxpayers, it is not only harmful to children, it is also, to a degree that were are only now understanding, preventable.”
So can we prevent unnecessary divorce?
One idea is the waiting period.
According to a 2009 study by Thorsten Kneip and Gerrit Bauer, “Did Unilateral Divorce Laws Raise the Divorce Rates in Western Europe,” 80 percent of the increase in divorce rates between 1970 and 1990 could be attributed to the eliminating or shortening of waiting periods.
These scholars acknowledge that the scientific case for the impact of waiting periods in reducing divorce is not bulletproof.
However Doherty and Sears suggest not only a one-year waiting period but also a parenting education class that puts interested couples in touch with reconciliation resources. And they said this should have an even bigger impact than waiting periods alone in reducing unnecessary divorce.
If a divorce can be prevented by a one-year waiting period, and giving both spouses information on reconciliation, then it definitely is an unnecessary divorce.
But why should government strive to eliminate unnecessary divorce?
Because it hurts children.
Doherty and Sears know that divorce on average has dramatic effects on children’s lives, across the life course. They wrote that rolling family fragmentation back to 1980 levels would result in half a million fewer children suspended from school, about 200,000 fewer children engaging in delinquency or violence, a quarter of a million fewer children receiving therapy, about a quarter of a million fewer smokers, about 80,000 fewer children thinking about suicide, and about 28,000 fewer children attempting suicide.”
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