No quickie divorce under Republican's bill - East Valley Tribune: News

No quickie divorce under Republican's bill

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Posted: Wednesday, February 10, 2010 5:02 pm | Updated: 3:42 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

State lawmakers are moving to make couples who have decided their marriage isn't working wait four months longer to divorce.

And those with children would first have to go through education programs telling them about alternatives to divorce and the resources available to improve or strengthen their marriage.

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Rep. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, the sponsor of HB2650, said she believes that requiring couples to wait 180 days will result in more people deciding they should stay together. As proof, she said the divorce rate is lower in states with longer waiting periods than it is in Arizona, where a marriage can be ended in as few as 60 days.

The most recent figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show Arizona's divorce rate at 3.9 per 1,000 residents. The comparable national figure is 3.6.

But Rep. Phil Lopes, D-Tucson, said that is confusing correlation with actual causation. He argued - and Barto acknowledged - there is no hard evidence that delays in granting divorce decrees keep couples happily married.

And Colleen McNally, the presiding family court judge for Maricopa County, warned that stretching out the process could be dangerous. She said domestic violence attacks increase the moment a spouse tries to get out of an abusive marriage.

Barto said she is willing to alter her measure when it goes to the full House to keep the waiting period to just 60 days for domestic violence victims. But foes said that still doesn't answer the question of why the state should be prolonging decisions that may have been mutually agreed on by couples.

Rep. David Bradley, D-Tucson, said the Republicans who are pushing this bill are the same ones who sponsor legislation to keep the government out of personal decisions. That includes a proposal by Barto to block the government from deciding what kind of health insurance people should have to obtain.

"But now we want the government to tell people - and assume that they are incapable of knowing when their marriage has gotten to the point where it's now irretrievable - we're going to tell them they have to extend it for longer periods of time because they are unable to make that decision for themselves," he said.

HB2650 was crafted by the Center for Arizona Policy, which gets involved in social issues and has supported making divorce more difficult, keeping gays from being allowed to marry and putting new restrictions on abortions. Lobbyist Deborah Sheasby said the state has a legitimate interest in preserving marriage.

"Beyond just the social costs and community instability of families falling apart, there's even financial costs for the state, increased costs for social programs, increased law enforcement costs, increased education costs," she told members of the House Health and Human Services Committee. "Allowing couples more time to work out their differences is just common sense."

She also said that in about four out of every five divorce cases, one spouse does not want out of the marriage.

McNally said the legislation works against the goal of judges to decrease the time it takes to dissolve a marriage. She said that by the time many couples file the legal papers they already have been through counseling and have decided that they cannot make the marriage work.

"We don't seem to see people coming to court who are hastily seeking to dissolve their marriage," McNally told lawmakers.

The fact that current law does allow for a divorce in 60 days does not mean that's how fast they have to occur - especially if one party does not want out. Divorce attorney Maria Lawrence said anybody that "wants to drag their feet" can prolong the process through a series of legal maneuvers.

Lawrence said it now takes three to four months for a divorce case to be set for trial.

But Lawrence said she still supports the legislation.

"What we're talking about is simply slowing the process down and allowing people to think through the process, to allow cooler heads to prevail," she said.

Rep. Ed Ableser, D-Tempe, questioned how long a woman should be forced to remain married to someone who abuses her.

"That is not my decision to make," Lawrence responded. "I do believe that people can change. And if a person goes through a life transformation, has a change of heart and a change of attitude and a change of behavior, I still believe even in domestic violence that a marriage can be saved."

That brought an angry reaction from Bradley, who is a mental health consultant.

"I've worked with women who are dead, dead, because they have that line of reasoning, that they thought they could fix this, that they could change that other person," he said.

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