In 1994 Utah became the first state to require that divorcing couples complete a seminar before a court would finalize their divorce. Utah is known as one of the more conservative states in the country when it comes to traditional family values and back in 1994, requiring divorcing couples to attend a seminar was certainly in keeping with that image. According to an article in The New York Times, 48 states now offer some form of classes for divorcing couples. 27 of them require by statute that divorcing parents take the class, while others leave the decisions up to cities, counties, or individual judges.
Now, a Utah lawmaker is proposing a bill that would require couples to take at least part of the seminar earlier in the divorce process. The goal of the legislation is to reduce the rate of divorce among couples with children. The theory is that, if couples are counseled at an earlier date about divorce’s potential impact on their children, they will be more likely to reconsider and perhaps stay together. The bill, which is likely to pass, puts Utah back in the spotlight for an initiative that made it unique 20 years ago but which is commonplace today.
Divorcing Couples Classes Vary in Approach
The classes touch on a variety of subjects, and vary considerably from state to state. The Utah seminar lasts two hours and costs $55. Some states only mandate that parents attend a video session. Other classes feature roleplaying and information about how the divorce could affect the parents’ children. In general, the courses place a great amount of emphasis on protecting children and keeping them out of arguments. There is also some helpful advice about legal fees and finding divorce attorneys.
High Divorce Rates Are Concerning to Some Lawmakers
The Utah bill is not the only attempt by a state to address our country’s high divorce rate. Since California became the first state to allow no-fault divorces in 1969, divorce rates have generally been higher than many policymakers and commentators would like. There have been various attempts to decrease the divorce rate. A pending bill in Oklahoma would prolong the divorce waiting period to six months. In North Carolina, a similar bill would extend the waiting period to two years.
Utah’s divorce rate is slightly higher than the national average. It has decreased in recent years, as the marriage rate has also gone down. Opponents of the divorce seminar bill are skeptical that it would have any impact on the divorce rate. Even if the class were required at an earlier point in the process, once a couple starts taking positive steps toward divorce, it is very difficult to change their minds. More importantly, it is not clear that the state has any role or responsibility in discouraging divorce, and perhaps the resources used for these classes could be spent more effectively on other programs.