Monday, February 7, 2011

The Forum calls Divorce Reform a "Sham"

The Forum newspaper of Fargo called Divorce Reform legislation a "Sham". Our response is below.

SB 2367 Divorce Reform That Can Make A Difference

Comments offered by Tom Freier, North Dakota Family Alliance

As an entity which supports SB 2367, the North Dakota Family Alliance takes exception to the Forum’s characterization of this effort as a “sham”. This is a strong word meaning; a trick, false, silliness, counterfeit, and purporting to be genuine. None of these words apply to this effort. We need to ask ourselves a number of questions.

First, does the state have a vested interest in this issue? Whether we agree or not, the state currently is the grantor of both marriage licenses and divorce decrees. Chapter 14 of the North Dakota Century Code contains hundreds of pages of law dealing with domestic relations, including marriage, divorce, child custody, and parental rights and responsibilities, to mention just a few. The state, acting on behalf of its citizens has taken on the responsibility to put in place laws and rules that take into account the best interests and wellbeing of all, adults and children.

Second, does this issue rise to the level of need which should be addressed by the legislature?
Nationally, every year 1 million children are a product of divorce, On average in North Dakota, each year we have 4200 marriages, 1900 divorces, of which 900 will involve 1600 dependent children. Put in perspective, using the current trend of 1600 children per year, in 25 years that equates to 40,000 children, greater than the population of Minot.

Mounting evidence concludes that many, not all, but most children will experience the devastating physical, emotional, and financial effects associated with divorce which will last well into adulthood and affect future generations. To a degree many children of divorce will; have a higher incidence of crime and drug abuse, perform more poorly in school, have a higher incidence of being abused, be more likely to be raised in poverty, and they, themselves have a higher rate of divorce.

The reality is that divorce has a huge emotional impact on children. Most children fail to fully understand divorce. If adults struggle to piece together the components of the divorce, to come to grips with their feelings and emotions, how can we expect an 11 year old to? To those on the outside, the final divorce decree might seem like a new beginning, a time to move on, but to most children of divorce the ongoing challenge of how to deal with their feelings and emotions is only beginning.

The financial cost of divorce involving children is high, to the family and the state. The Heritage Foundation estimates costs to the state at $25,000 per divorce. Even using a more conservative figure of $20,000 here in North Dakota, the annual costs are in the millions. The annual cost just regarding those 900 divorces involving children would equate to $18 million. Depending on the success of a program to decrease the number of divorces, the cumulative savings over the years could well be in the millions. And this does not take into account the many and varied the costs to the individual families.

So a final question needs to be posed—would legislation such as SB 2367 have a positive influence on diminishing the number of divorces where dependent children are involved? Would requiring a 12 month waiting period as is in the bill, or even 6 months as some have suggested, make a difference? Would requiring counseling sessions, whether that be the 10 in the bill, or even 4 or 5 have an impact?

Recent information seems to indicate that a waiting period including appropriate counseling sessions may well be successful in certain situations, in those cases where abuse is not involved. There are no guarantees as to how many may reconsider their plans for divorce. The question is what is the necessary return on investment? Is it 10 marriages, or 50 marriages, or is it 75 children or is it 250 children? How can we measure the impact on those children?

And what is the investment this bill is asking for? It is requiring the married couple who entered into a legal contract, who have dependent children and now as they are seeking a divorce---that they would make the investment of attending counseling sessions during a waiting period---before reaching that final decision. A decision which will impact not only their future, but that of their children.

This is the policy decision before the legislature. Contrary to the view of the Forum, it is a legitimate discussion to have. Yes in general, it is about the benefits of marriage and family. I hope the Forum sees that as a good thing. But it specifically seeks to offer solutions to conflict and saving marriages, and especially taking into consideration the wellbeing of the children.

The Forum is correct when saying that divorce is personal, complicated, and traumatic—but it fails to understand the real reason for this legislation—to take into account the wellbeing of the children. If the Forum would see the overall intent of this legislation, they would not have called this measure a “sham”. They would not have accosted the legislators who introduced this bill as wanting “to bring the heavy boot of government intrusion”, when their genuine efforts should be applauded, not ridiculed for wanting North Dakota to be better for all, including the children.


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