Divorce-rate2A state legislator from Fort Worth wants to make it harder to get a divorce in Texas. Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, has filed a bill for the legislative session starting in January, proposing to require a party to state a fault reason for divorce or to remain separated for at least three years before finalizing the divorce. (See Lawmaker wants unhappy couples to live apart for 3 years before they can divorce http://www.star-telegram.com/news/nation-world/national/article124180949.html#storylink=cpy) Currently, Texas law allows parties to divorce on the grounds of insupportability — a no-fault finding — with only a 60 day waiting period. If the new law is passed, parties would have to say a reason for the divorce as opposed to a general statement that the parties relationship is irreconcilable. Or, to divorce on grounds of insupportability, they would have to separate for minimum of three years. Kraus thinks it should be more difficult to get a divorce and that the new law will strengthened the sanctity of marriage.

I seriously doubt that this law will pass. No-fault divorce has been in place since the 1970’s (when Texas’ family law code was created) and many people, including many of the currently serving state legislators, have divorced under the law. Instead of litigating over the question of which party caused the divorce, most parties currently just agree to irreconcilable differences and get on with the more important issues of parenting time and division of property.

If this law were to pass, I think it would have two unintended consequences. First, I think it would serve to raise the contentiousness of most divorces, raising the cost of an already expensive process. Second, it would have a chilling effect on many victims of domestic violence escaping their abusers.

In reference to the elimination of fault requirements in New York in 2010, Betsy Stephenson, an economist at the University of Pennsylvania who studies divorce, believes that no-fault divorce benefits women, particularly domestic violence victims. No-fault divorce laws lead to a 30% decrease in domestic violence because it makes it easier for the victim to escape their marriages. It also makes the abuser less likely to act because they are aware that their spouses would leave them. No-fault divorce also makes women less likely to commit suicide, says Stephenson. (See No Fault Divorce: good for women http://www.salon.com/2010/06/17/no_fault_divorce_new_york/ )

Some opponents of fault-divorce claim that no-fault divorce raises the likelihood of divorce and harms the sanctity of marriage. Quite the opposite, according to statistics. Actually, divorce rates began to rise in the 1950’s and peaked in the early 1980’s, all when fault-based divorce was still the majority. In the 1970’s to the present, as all states in the U.S. transitioned to no-fault divorce, the divorce rates have decreased. (Discussion at Religion News Service http://religionnews.com/2013/04/24/what-hath-ssm-to-do/ ).

If Texas were to pass this women-unfriendly bill, it would be the only state in the U.S. to require a fault finding to get divorce, setting back women’s rights by at least 40 years. (See http://family.findlaw.com/divorce/an-overview-of-no-fault-and-fault-divorce-law.html)