Once the fruitcake is gone and the champagne bottle is empty, couples wanting out of their marriages tend to look to January as a prime time to figure out how to get a divorce.
“Buckle your seat belts, January is a bumpy ride,” said Cindy Diggs, of Holmes Diggs Eames & Sadler, a Houston law firm that concentrates on divorce and family law. “It’s going to be a busy month.”
Lawyers call it “divorce month” because of an uptick in inquiries and filings following the holidays, but one state lawmaker wants to make it harder for married couples to call it quits.
Conservative Republican Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, said he wants to strengthen families and reinforce the sanctity of marriage by eliminating no-fault divorces, which now allow couples to split amicably with neither legally alleging blame.
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“I don’t know if we don’t take our vows as seriously as we used to, but I think getting rid of the no-fault divorce piece of this may make folks concentrate on this a little harder before they enter into that relationship, or stick it out to where they can restore that relationship and the tough times in marriage,” he said.
Krause, who has been married for 14 years, said he wants modern culture to better value the importance of family to ensure a healthy society, and he added that stable families will result in better outcomes for children.
Under a bill he plans to push in the 2017 legislative session, the state would strike “insupportability” as grounds for divorce. A couple who wants to dissolve their marriage peacefully will have to live separately for three years before filing for divorce. Those opposed to waiting would have to accuse their partners of cruelty or adultery, or allege their partner abandoned them after a year living apart. Other grounds include conviction of a felony or confinement in a mental hospital.
“That’s a terrible idea,” Diggs said.
‘Forcing the fight’
Doing away with no-fault divorces will enrich divorce lawyers because clients will pay more in fees to come up with reasons to legally justify splitting from their spouse, she said.
“He’s forcing the fight,” she said of Krause’s bill. “Even as a divorce lawyer, I don’t think that’s right. I think you should make divorce easier for those who want it because those who want it are still going to go and file and get it. It’s just going to cost them more and cause their families and their children more strife.”
Divorce rates are on a steady decline across the country and falling faster in Texas. The national divorce rate was 3.2 divorces per 1,000 people in 2014, the latest year for which data are available, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. That’s down from the 4 divorces per 1,000 rate in 2001.
Texas began the millennium at the same rate but has dropped to 2.6 divorces per 1,000 people as of 2014, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. The state recorded 177,230 marriages and 71,988 divorces that year. The state does not maintain figures on how many were no-fault divorces.
Seen as long shot
States began adopting no-fault divorce laws in 1970, beginning in California with a law signed by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, himself a divorcé. By the mid-1980s, all but New York had signed no-fault divorces into law. New York became the last to allow couples to divorce by mutual consent in 2010.
Texas law allows couples to choose a no-fault divorce if they use “insupportability” as grounds for dissolving a union, assuming the “marriage has become insupportable because of discord or conflict of personalities that destroys the legitimate end of the marital relationship and prevents any reasonable expectation of reconciliation.”
Krause’s plan to strike that option from state law is a long shot, said Steve Bresnen, a lobbyist for the Texas Family Law Foundation, which represents lawyers who concentrate on divorce, child custody and child support cases.
“We don’t want to go back to the old days,” Bresnen said. “People need to have the tools to order their own affairs and not have excessive state involvement. … To me, it is inviting the state and the workings of government, the judiciary especially, into people’s lives where the government should have a limited role.”
Krause proposed the bill in the 2015 legislative session, supported by pastors and Concerned Women for America, a national conservative advocacy group that seeks to weave biblical principles into public policy, both of which argue children in single-parent households are more likely to struggle than their peers.
‘Makes things worse’
The bill won a narrow 4-3 bipartisan approval in a legislative committee but failed to reach the floor.
“We are not a church; we are a government,” said Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, during a hearing days before voting against the bill. “When people get married, they get married. They’re adults. … That is really getting in the middle, and I’m not so sure it fixes things. I think, if anything, it makes things worse.”
Krause rejects the suggestion that forcing couples to wait out a divorce infringes on their personal freedom.
“They still have every right, whether they’re going to get into that union or not,” Krause said. “But once they do, I don’t think it’s bad for the state to say, ‘Hey, if you’re doing this and you’re entering into this union, let’s make sure you’re very serious about it,’ knowing the societal benefits that can happen when there’s a happy married couple and knowing the societal concern that we see as a consequence when there’s a proliferation of divorces.”