States Aim at Limiting Procedural Burdens of Divorce
Multiple states have recently amended their divorce laws in order to expedite the process and facilitate better, more cooperative outcomes for couples parting ways. While none of the reforms contain drastic or sweeping change, they are the first steps of what many hope will be continued growth to limit the burden that divorcing couples currently find to be a cumbersome process. One thing seems certain – the well being of children is at the core of all reform, even when the changes do not apply to couples with children.
In Nebraska, the National Center for State Courts evaluated the 2007 Parenting Act’s effects on divorce. The Act mandated parenting plans and reduced the average duration of a divorce by 40 days. Along with other effects, since the Act, judges have spent just under 2 hours less on each divorce under their purview. The effect on children is hard to examine because of the emphasis on confidentiality in protecting children in these proceedings. However, parental involvement with the mandated plans seems to be increasing cooperation between parents and ultimately, achieving better outcome for families.
In a more recent change, Connecticut’s Nonadversarial Dissolution of Marriage law provides two simplified divorce procedures. In one new process, eligible parties can receive a divorce in under 35 days, as opposed to three or more months, and judges are empowered to rule “on the papers alone,” without dragging the parties into court. The second process allows cooperating parties to receive a waiver of the 90-day waiting period for dissolution. However beneficial these changes are, they are narrowly limited in application. Limitations include: “married eight or fewer years; neither person is pregnant; no children were born or adopted before or during the marriage; neither spouse has any interest or title in any real property; the total value of all property they own is less than $35,000; neither spouse has a company-sponsored pension plan; neither spouse has a pending bankruptcy; neither spouse is applying for or receiving Medicaid benefits; no other action of dissolution of marriage is pending; and there are no restraining or protective orders between the spouses.”
The third state at the forefront of divorce reform, Maryland has also passed legislation that will expedite the divorce process for those without children. The new law will allow for couples who have already agreed to the divorce and property splits to eliminate the one-year long waiting period. This expands the current exceptions, such as adultery and abuse, which are already allowed.
The steps taken are forming a foundation for further reform. Though couples with children are excluded in some of the new laws, an overarching theme is in providing greater cooperation and more beneficial outcomes for the parties involved. The absence of significant reform when children are affected reflects an unwillingness to throw children into new and untested processes because they are often the most impacted parties.