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US family law reform to halt “soft” divorce

07th November 2011

William J Doherty and Leah Ward Sears say that although the Second Chances Act has not yet been enacted by any state, momentum is building for its introduction.

Mr Doherty told the Washington Times, “We are suggesting some modest reforms because we believe that there are preventable divorces, and that children are most harmed by those divorces that are preventable.”

Ms Sears said that the ultimate goal was not to end divorce, especially in cases of abuse, violence, substance addiction and adultery, but to target couples considering divorce for “soft reasons” such as growing apart and failure to communicate.

The Second Chances Act, outlined in the report published by the Institute for American Values, suggests that states should:

  • Require divorcing couples with children to attend divorce-education classes prior to filing for divorce.
  • Establish procedures for spouses to send “early notification and divorce prevention letters” stating terms under which a divorce could be avoided.
  • Introduce a one-year cooling off period before a divorce can be made final.
  • Create “centres of excellence” in divorce prevention for couples at risk.

However, family law experts have expressed concerns over a mandatory waiting period for couples who feel their relationship is beyond repair.

Missouri family lawyer Matthew Miller said of couples who want a divorce, “If it’s the right decision for the party, I don’t think the courts would have any interest in limiting the right to seek the relief that they’ve entered the court to seek. I think they should be free to pursue the relief that they’re asking for through the court and not be delayed because of legislative interests.”

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