March 16, 2007 — If you have children and are seeking a divorce in Tennessee, the process might take longer if a new piece of legislation becomes law in the Volunteer State.
Senator Paul Stanley recently introduced a Tennessee divorce bill which would require couples with children under 15 years old to wait a year before a divorce on grounds of irreconcilable differences could be finalized. This time period would be reduced to six months for wannabe divorcees with children between the ages of 15 and 18 if this legislation were to become a part of Tennessee divorce law, according to a story in The Tennessean.
The story stated that Tennessee does not have no-fault divorces and that citing irreconcilable differences is often the fastest way to get them done. It added that Tennessee parents whom cite irreconcilable differences as reason for divorce and also agree to the terms of the divorce, including child custody and property division, could have their divorce finalized in as little as 90 days. Couples without children could have their divorce done in as little as 60 days.
With such numbers in mind, Stanley called divorces "too convenient" for people in the state. While he acknowledged that his Tennessee divorce legislation is not meant to prolong miserable divorce cases, Stanley said that it is intended to weed out this type of convenience.
David Fowler, a former state Senator and the current head of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, said that this legislation makes it known that children and not only the divorcees are affected during divorce. David Poponoe, co-founder of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, added that there is evidence of divorce waiting periods giving marriages more time to heal. Poponoe cited a five-year study looking at couples in unhappy marriages and showing that couples who stayed together were more happier five years later than the people who chose to divorce.
Nashville divorce lawyer Ray Akers disagreed with this argument and said in the story that very few people reconcile during a pending divorce. He added that a divorce waiting period often leads to even more expenses and bitterness, a claim which was backed up in the story by a woman who was involved in a year-long divorce.
After deciding to divorce from her husband of 18 years, Alison Cavopol tried six more months of marriage counseling as a last-ditch effort to save her marriage. Ultimately, she said the waiting period resulted in more pain for her two children, who had to watch their parents argue for another year before getting divorced.
Nashville divorce lawyer Jan Walden further voiced opposition to this legislation by saying that the legislature can not force people to stay married. She did say that this Tennessee divorce legislation would only be beneficial in that a longer waiting period would not allow people to remarry so fast.
The Tennessean story detailed that Tennessee had the third-highest per capita divorce rate in 1999. However, divorce rates have dropped in the state since that time. Tennessee averaged 4.9 divorces per 1,000 residents in 2004, a number which marked a decline from its 6.5 average in 1990.
Proponents of this Tennessee divorce bill say that similar legislative efforts in the past have led to the decline in divorces in the state. Recent Tennessee divorce laws have included a measure requiring parents to get educated on the effects of divorce on children and a law giving couples a discount on marriage license costs if they attend premarital counseling. Opponents to this Tennessee divorce legislation attribute this decline in divorces to a statewide and nationwide trend in which less people are getting married and more people are just living together.