A bill has been introduced in the Minnesota Senate for a two-year waiting period in contested marriage dissolutions that involve children. The concept of a waiting period is misguided if its purpose is to encourage (force?) parents to stay together “for the kids.”
The current law provides that if one spouse (not both) asserts that the marriage is irretrievably broken, the family court will grant a marriage dissolution. This means that one spouse may want to save the marriage, and the court will still dissolve it. Not ideal, for sure. But what is the alternative? Forcing someone who does not want to be married to stay married?
Under the current law, a marriage requires both spouses either to be fully committed to the marriage or to be subscribing to the belief that the marriage can be saved. One could describe marriage the same way without referencing the law at all. A marriage cannot survive if one spouse has one foot “in” and one foot “out.” There are occasions when the spouse who has “checked out” can be brought back into the marriage through counseling. But those occasions are far outnumbered by situations in which the marriage truly cannot be saved.
When children are involved, there is more reason to allow the marriage dissolution to proceed quickly, not less. Studies show that children living with parents who experience high marital conflict suffer more than children whose parents live separately. Certainly, children are best off living with parents who live together and experience low conflict, and are worst off in high-conflict situations whether their parents live together or not. But the dissolution of their parents’ marriage can be the triggering event to transform a child’s living environment from a high-conflict situation to a low-conflict situation.
Family courts would struggle with management of divorce cases if there were a two-year waiting period. During the waiting period, the conflict between spouses over parenting plans, child support, valuation of marital property, and the extended transition from living as a couple to living apart would be very destructive.
If the bill progresses into anything given serious consideration – here’s hoping that never happens – it would be interesting to see what empirical basis could possibly be presented to support the notion that a waiting period is a widespread solution to a widespread problem.