MN Legislature Looks At Divorce Reform -1/5/99
Thu Jan 6 10:55:21 EST 2000
from: Smart Marriages
Wednesday, January 5, 2000 Star Tribune
Lawmakers to push covenant marriage proposal
By ASHLEY H. GRANT / Associated Press Writer
ST. PAUL (AP) -- Want to stay married? Make it harder to get divorced.
That' s the message from some lawmakers who said Wednesday they would
push a " covenant marriage" bill again this session to give couples the
option of making an extra commitment.
" The bottom line is, we' re interested in happy couples, " said Rep.
Elaine Harder, R-Jackson.
Among the measures couples would agree to would be 12 hours of premarital
counseling and a two-year waiting period between the time they decided to
divorce and the time they did so in most cases. In exchange, they would
get a $50 break on the cost of their marriage license -- from $70 to $20.
Sen. Steve Dille, R-Dassel, said the saved money could go toward
premarital counseling, which usually costs about $100.
Spouses still would be able to immediately dissolve a marriage if their
partner committed adultery, abuse, abandonment for at least a year or was
convicted of a felony.
Covenant marriage would be an option, but not mandatory, under the
proposal. Couples still could opt for the standard, no-fault divorce
The covenant marriage idea was borrowed from Louisiana, where it is a new
cause among groups that want to lower the nation' s 50-percent divorce
rate. But there is some question as to how many people would choose the
option, anyway. In Louisiana, only 3 percent have.
Covenant marriage bills cropped up in 17 state legislatures last year,
including Minnesota' s. Arizona was the only state that adopted one.
Supporters, including conservative religious groups, say covenant
marriages can help prevent some divorces by slowing down a process that
now proceeds too fast and too often.
Opponents and skeptics, including feminists, say there' s no evidence
that making divorce harder saves marriages, and that in fact covenant
marriage laws can backfire and make some divorces messier.
A similar proposal by Dille was tabled last year in the Senate
subcommittee on family law. It was on the floor of the House when the
Opposition in the Legislature may give the bill a bumpy road.
Sen. Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, said it is difficult for the
Legislature to interfere with what takes place between a married couple.
Bill Doherty, a University of Minnesota professor of family social
science and family therapist who supports the covenant marriage bill,
said strong families mean fewer people on welfare and other government
" The state has a clear interest in successful marriages, " he said.
Doherty conceded that some divorces are warranted, but said many are
impulsive decisions that people later regret.
Doherty cited a 1998 poll of Minnesotans for the nonprofit Minnesota
Family Institute in which 66 percent of divorced respondents said they
wished they and their ex-spouses had tried harder to work through their
Minnesota law now encourages couples to mediate rather than litigate
divorces, but it is not required.
Legislature Looks At Divorce Reform
Several Family Organizations Say They Will Support Marriage Covenant
MINNEAPOLIS, Updated 11:31 a.m. CST January 5, 2000 -- Legislators held a
Capitol news conference Wednesday to announce a renewed effort to pass a
covenant marriage option in the Minnesota Legislature.
Republican Sen. Steve Dille of Dassel and Rep. Elaine Harder of Jackson
were joined by University of Minnesota Marriage and Family Therapy
Program Director Bill Doherty, Minnesota Family Council President Tom
Prichard and others supporting the legislation.
"I believe [it's] part of the solution to our crime problem, the problems
of welfare dependency, poor educational performance, poverty and also
some public health problems," Dille told WCCO-Radio.
The covenant marriage option legislation, which is already the law in
Louisiana and Arizona, would give couples, newly engaged and already
married, an alternative option to the current no-fault system.
Prichard said the marriage option is a response to society's misplaced
"It's easier for a spouse to leave a 30-year marriage than break a $100
business agreement," Prichard said. "Society's priorities are misplaced
if we allow this situation to continue."
To qualify for a covenant marriage, the bill states that couples would
agree to 12 hours of premartial counseling, another 12 hours of
counseling if the marriage runs into trouble and a two-year waiting
period from separation to final divorce, WCCO-Radio reported.
The marriage option is not iron-clad, however.
In instances where adultery, abuse, abandonment for one year, or a felony
have been committed by one spouse, the other spouse may immediately seek
to dissolve the marriage.
"Covenant marriage legislation is a response to the increasing problem of
divorce in our culture," Prichard said. "Those from a divorced family
know firsthand the hurt and problems caused by divorce."
The Minnesota Family Council plans to support it in its newspaper mailed
to more than 20,000 homes across Minnesota.
The legislation is expected to be heard in both the Minnesota Senate and
House this session.
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