North Dakota Bill Mandates Counseling Before Divorce
A new bill in North Dakota states that parents seeking divorce should have to wait at least six months and pursue mandatory couples counseling before dissolving their marriage. Rep. Naomi Muscha told the House Judiciary Committee on Monday, February 11th, that it’s too easy to get divorced in North Dakota, and the bill would seek to help parents understand their duties before finalizing their divorce.
Given the high nationwide divorce rate, the bill’s goal is understandable. Encouraging stable, long-lasting marriages is a notable endeavor and ensuring that parents understand their parental responsibilities is similarly important. Although according to Avvo.com, a legal research site, North Dakota actually has the lowest divorce rate in the country, nationally, about 50% of marriages end in divorce within 20 years, and 20% of marriages end in divorce within 5 years.
Despite these statistics, this bill may not be proposing the best approach. Counseling is expensive and not all parents who aim to get a divorce are able to afford it. Also, it is not always the best thing for children to be in a home with parents who no longer wish to be together. Forcibly prolonging the divorce may leave some families in limbo for longer, and may make some children remain in unsafe or unhappy households for longer than need be.
While couples counseling may work well for some, it is not necessarily suitable for everyone. There is no one-method-fits-all option for divorcing parents and aiming to mandate such a method likely will not be effective.
In New York, there is no requirement of attending counseling in order to get a divorce. However, couples must have legal “grounds” to get a divorce, which may be any of seven different reasons: irretrievable breakdown, cruel and inhuman treatment, abandonment, imprisonment, adultery, judgment of separation, or separation agreement. This essentially enables couples—parents or not—to get a divorce in dire situations or if separated for over a year, which functions as a sort of waiting period. Although New York State has the third highest rate of divorce in the country, these regulations both uphold the value of family while simultaneously protecting individuals’ rights to dissolve their marriage when need be.