Stricter divorce laws not needed

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Republicans often decry — and usually for good reason — how government has become too intrusive in our lives. Laws and policies have turned this country into a nanny state that’s overprotective or interfering when it comes to personal choices of its citizens.

Yet, it’s Republicans in Olympia who are leading the effort to use the government’s power in personal decisions.

Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, has sponsored legislation that would extend the waiting period to obtain a divorce from 90 days to one year. The proposal would also amend a court-issued handbook for divorcing couples to include the benefits of reconciliation and make it required reading for both parties.

Sponsors of the legislation, dubbed the Family Second Chance Act, argue the legislation will save taxpayers money. Divorce is correlated with higher rates of poverty and juvenile delinquency. They contend reducing the number of divorces will save the state money in social services.

While we would agree divorce should be discouraged, it’s not the government’s role to serve as a de facto marriage counselor. Family, friends, pastors and others should offer those seeking divorce — particularly if it is the result of a snap decision made in the heat of an emotional moment — advice and help in keeping their marriage together. If it is a healthy marriage, it is clearly better for children and society.

But not all marriages are healthy. Some people simply should not be married to each other. Some are in abusive relationships, — physical, mental or both. Some want different things out of their lives. Bad marriages can be far worse for children and society than divorce.

Proponents of this proposal have tried to address the concern about bad marriages by allowing quicker divorces in cases when one partner has been convicted of a violent or sexual felony against the other or against a child, as well as in cases in which a court has issued a final civil protection order against one of the parties stemming from threats of violence, according to The Associated Press.

Those exceptions only touch the surface of lousy marriages. Abuse happens in many ways that never make their way to a legal proceeding.

Increasing the waiting time won’t necessarily save a marriage that can’t be saved.

Twenty-eight states have no waiting periods, two have mandatory waits of one year and one state, Arkansas, has a waiting period of 18 months. The rest, like Washington, are somewhere in between.

Arkansas had the second-highest 2010 divorce rate in the nation, of 5.7 divorces per 1,000 people. Washington state’s 2010 divorce rate was 4.2 per 1,000 people.

Ultimately, the decision to divorce is a personal decision, usually a very difficult one. The current 90-day wait is sufficient.

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Our address is P.O. Box 1358, Walla Walla, WA 99362.

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