Say what you will about Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s “conscious uncoupling” or Jewel and Ty Murray’s “thoughtful and tender undoing,” but if they lived in Oklahoma, they’d be forced to kowtow to legislators who think they know what’s better for couples than the couples themselves.
As of Nov. 1, Oklahoma’s married couples with children younger than 18 have been required to pay for and complete a marriage education program before they can split.
There’s a movement to make divorce harder in the U.S., and it’s wrong.
To be sure, there are many who believe making divorce harder would save more marriages and provide the children in those unions with stable homes. I have no doubt that the founders and supporters of the Coalition for Divorce Reform, which promotes the Parental Divorce Reduction Act, and the Institute for American Values, which endorses the Second Chances proposal, are sincerely concerned about the number of young children being disrupted by divorce every year. About a million children experience parental divorce each year, although not all are minors — a staggering number. I also don’t doubt that these groups sincerely believe that the required marital education classes and waiting periods would get parents to see the bigger picture of their split and help them reassess their perceived marital grievances.
But people divorce for all sorts of reasons that don’t necessarily fit these groups’ assessment of “unnecessary divorce,” marriages ending because of some vague unhappiness or a lack of commitment, and that fall outside of the few reasons they consider valid — physical abuse, drug or booze addiction, incarceration and abandonment. In some cases, marriages are never salvageable, like when a spouse comes out as gay or a spouse is emotionally abusive. Should a man or woman be forced to reconcile with a serial adulterer, emotional abuser, petty thief, or porn or gambling addict? Not only would such measures prolong suffering for the spouse, but the very children legislators are desperately hoping to protect may be subject to even more parental conflict. What’s the sense in that?
Here’s a Perspective I wrote for KQED. I welcome your thoughts.