By John Clark
A bill circulating in the North Carolina Senate would force married couples to wait for two years before filing for divorce, according to a report this week from the Hickory Daily Record.
The proposed law, cleverly titled the “Healthy Marriage Act,” would extend the state’s mandatory waiting period before a divorce from one to two years, but it also adds several other layers designed to make divorce more difficult.
According to sources, the new divorce law would also force couples to attend counseling sessions and allow them to live together without suffering a penalty in order to work out their marital troubles.
To no one’s surprise, the bill has generated a fair amount of controversy in North Carolina, but its supporters swear by its potential efficacy.
Sen. Austin Allran, the bill’s sponsor, notes that his state has a “higher-than-average divorce rate,” but claims he doesn’t think that “residents of North Carolina are harder to get along with than people in other states.”
In other words, Allran believes the state’s relatively high divorce rate is a product of poor laws, not cultural trends, and he hopes the bill would change these statistics.
Sources say North Carolina has 3.8 divorces per 1,000 residents, a rate that is slightly above the national average of 3.4 divorces per 1,000 people.
In addition to the potential to reduce the state’s divorce rate, supporters of the bill also claim that it would help children, and it would also reduce the costs to the state that are often incurred as a result of divorce.
But opponents of the bill claim the proposal would set divorce laws back several decades, and note that such measures would be counterproductive at best.
According to Lisa Angel, a local divorce attorney, in 20 years of helping North Carolina clients, “I’ve never had a client ask for the waiting period to be longer.”
Angel also noted that “most clients have thought about this and agonized over this for years before they actually separate, so to extend that only causes more emotional and financial hardship for the family and children.”
Indeed, residents of North Carolina are already required to wait a year between their separation and a final divorce, in addition to meeting other regulatory hurdles that are common to family law disputes.
Opponents of the bill question whether the addition of an extra year to the waiting period would provide anything but headaches for families and courts alike.