Divorce, Justice Leah Ward Sears Style
Can we as a society do anything to support the marital union of these children’s parents, especially those interested in saving their marriages?
We propose a modest reform that U.S. state legislatures can enact: the Second Chances Act, which combines a minimum, one-year waiting period for divorce with education about the option of reconciliation.
With regard to waiting periods, there is considerable variation among states. Forty-six states have waiting periods of six months or less, including 10 states that have no waiting periods. No other Western nation has waiting periods as short as the United States. In Western Europe, three-year waiting periods are common.
A one-year waiting period would ensure that the law is not moving couples — who are often at one of the most intense emotional periods of their lives — more rapidly toward divorce than perhaps they intended or wanted.
Our proposal, which we plan to roll out to a few states and then pursue nationally, would also require parents of minor children considering divorce to take a short, pre-filing parenting education course. This education component, which could be completed online, would include information on reconciliation (along with resources for couples who choose to pursue that course) and information on a non-adversarial approach to divorce. Forty-six states already require some form of parenting classes for divorcing couples with minor children, although most couples take the classes well into the divorce process. Tragically, educators who teach these classes report that some parents say such things as “I wish I had known these things when we first broke up.”
Empowering couples with this education before they divorce, combined with information about the option of reconciliation, is a win-win situation: It gives individuals a second chance for their marriages, and it gives everyone — regardless of whether they pursue reconciliation — a chance for a less adversarial divorce process.