I feel sad for the unhappily married in Oklahoma. Married couples with minor children are now required to complete a marriage education program – at their own expense-before they can divorce. Among other things, the class covers the effects divorce has on a child's emotional well being.
That depends on many factors, according to research, including the child's age, how parents manage conflict and whether the child has equal time with both parents. Some kids are healthier and happier after a divorce. Any marriage class seeking to prevent divorce probably won't suggest that. It's also doubtful the class will suggest an amicable divorce or teach effective co-parenting if the couple decides to split. Yet that is exactly the kind of help unhappily married parents need.
Oklahoma is the latest state to unnecessarily burden already-stressed spouses, joining Arizona, Louisiana and Utah. Similar bills are pending in other states, some with extensive waiting periods before a divorce is granted. They also limit the reasons a couple can divorce, making abandonment, addiction, imprisonment and physical abuse the only "valid" reasons to uncouple.
That effectively trumps no-fault law that California spearheaded 45 years ago and that every state has followed. It has saved many women from domestic violence, even suicide. It's wrong to make divorce harder for the unhappily wed. They are shamed and judged by lawmakers for not trying hard enough – as if they have a clue about what these couples endure or what they've done to stay together. One study showed that 58 percent of men and 37 percent of women postponed divorce for five years or longer because of their children.
Oklahoma has spent more than $70 million in recent years promoting marriage and discouraging divorce. Better it had been spent helping to fix the dysfunctional family court system that often does more harm than good to the very children it seeks to protect.
Marriage isn't always the answer and divorce isn't always the problem.
It's time that society recognizes that.
With a Perspective, I'm Vicki Larson.
Vicki Larson is twice married and divorced, and a Bay Area journalist and blogger.