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Divorce 101: Change proposed in Utah divorce class
Orientation legislation » The plan would require course completion before filing.

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"I look forward to their ideas," Nielson said in an interview, adding that there might be some compromise over the timing, such as requiring someone to start the orientation class immediately before or at the time of a filing a divorce petition, with the ability to complete it in a set amount of time. He also will push for development of an online class — a move he believes would solve a lot of the concerns.

At a glance

Divorce in Utah

It’s been nearly a generation since Utah adopted so-called no-fault divorce laws in which irreconcilable differences are cited as the motivating forces for couples splitting. The Beehive State was the second-to-last state to enact this change, its 1987 passage behind only Arkansas.

But Utah lawmakers have been busy ever since tinkering with divorce requirements as the cases surged to a peak of 14,627 in 2010, according to a Salt Lake Tribune analysis of records provided by the state Administrative Office of the Courts.

In the mid-1990s, the Legislature authorized a divorce-education program, beginning as a pilot project and then expanding as a mandate for all divorcing parents. The class is intended to educate and “sensitize” parents to the needs of children during and after divorce.

Later, lawmakers approved a 90-day waiting period until a divorce could be finalized.

Then, in 2007, the Legislature enacted a second mandatory class — this one a divorce-orientation course that is supposed to instruct couples with children about the divorce process and reasonable alternatives.

The latest proposals, back before lawmakers after three previous failed attempts, would change the timing of the orientation course — requiring its completion before filing for divorce.

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Looking ahead » "I appreciate the impediments that are seen," he told colleagues during a recent hearing. "I don’t think they’re significant. I think the policy is the question: Do we want to take this course, which appears to be less effective than it could be, and put it in a place where it has a greater chance of success?"

Nielson pulled back from having the Judiciary Interim Committee vote on the measure, but said he will pursue the issue in the regular session.

One lawmaker he intends to consult for possible compromise is Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan.

Hillyard — the longest-sitting lawmaker on Utah’s Capitol Hill and an attorney, cited his own experience in questioning the bill during the recent hearing on it.

"My concern is the practicality of it," Hillyard said. "I wish I could ban divorce. I wish I could make everyone love everybody and be kind and gentle and helpful."

But in the real world, he said, by the time someone goes to court or hires an attorney, "they’ve pretty well made up their mind ... and now to come back and require one more step, I just wonder as a practical matter, whether you’re going to accomplish anything."

Tony Semerad contributed to this story.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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