Editorial: Divorce to wait t-w-o y-e-a-r-s?

  • Posted: Wednesday, April 10, 2013 12:12 a.m.

Maybe the Healthy Marriage Act could stimulate the economy by generating more legal and counseling fees.

That’s one possible explanation for this retrogressive proposal, sponsored by state Sen. Austin Allran, a Republican from Hickory. Allran wants to double the waiting period for divorces to become final in North Carolina from one year to two, dragging out a process most estranged couples feel is more than adequate.

Allran and his supporters claim noble motives. North Carolina’s divorce rate is slightly higher than the national average — 3.8 per 1,000 residents vs. 3.4 per 1,000. Fallout includes harm to children and higher government expenses for social programs, according to Bill Brooks, executive director of the N.C. Family Council, the group that helped write the legislation.

To discourage that, Allran’s bill would require separated couples — who would not have to live separately — to take courses in communication and conflict resolution. If they have children, a course on the effects of divorce in children would also be mandatory.

Those steps might indeed keep couples together longer, but is that the job of the General Assembly? Talk about a nanny state. What’s the next step? Mandatory pre-marital counseling would probably be beneficial, too. How far does Allran want to get into people’s business?

Certainly divorce, like marriage, should not be entered into lightly. But if he’s concerned about social order, Allran may be looking at the wrong end of today’s relationships. According to the National Center on Health Statistics, cohabitation has become a ubiquitous phenomenon, with couples staying together longer and often having children. “The new data show 70 percent of women without a high school diploma cohabited as a first union, compared to 47 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree or higher,” reported Religion News Service. Women with higher education were more likely to move into marriage within three years (53 percent) than those who didn’t graduate from high school (30 percent). Having children within a cohabiting relationship has become common — for everyone but the college-educated.

In that case, if Allran and company want to promote intact families, they should focus on helping young people graduate from high school and get a college degree. They’d be more likely to wed and to have their children in wedlock.

If lawmakers want to get into social engineering, that’s a more beneficial approach than forcing unhappy couples to stay together longer.

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