Lawmakers talk marriage, divorce laws
Family-values Utah lawmakers intent on discouraging divorce faced a test of their principles Wednesday.
In one vote, members of the Judiciary Interim Committee approved a bill encouraging engaged couples to attend marriage counseling before tying the knot. But later in the same meeting, legislators debated whether to do away with the state's 90-day divorce waiting period.
Sen. Greg Bell's draft legislation would do away with a state policy that grants a waiver of the divorce waiting period for couples with young children who are required to attend a class for divorcing parents.
But Lori Nelson from the Family Law Section of the Utah State Bar urged lawmakers to get rid of the waiting period entirely. Nelson said most couples have spent at least three months working out their finances and separation of property anyway. Sometimes, partners use the waiting period to harass their soon-to-be-former spouse. And the law is unfair. Because couples with children can waive the cooling-off time, they can be divorced in as little as a few weeks, while couples without children have to wait three months or spend more money and time trying to convince a judge to waive the waiting period.
"The waiting period is not serving a useful purpose," Nelson said.
Committee members couldn't agree on abolishing the waiting period, so Bell, a Fruit Heights Republican, retreated to think about his idea some more.
"I don't know where I'm going to go," Bell said. "I just want to equalize the disparity."
At the same meeting, lawmakers endorsed for action in the 2006 Legislature a proposal by Salt Lake City Democratic Rep. Roz McGee promoting marriage preparation classes. McGee's bill was defeated earlier this year because it grants a $20 break on marriage license fees - a change that would have sapped money dedicated to a state program designed to help "displaced homemakers."
McGee is lining up grant money to pay for the marriage counseling program.
Colleen Howard urged lawmakers to approve McGee's proposal. She and her husband divorced after five children and 25 years. Howard, who took the state's class for divorcing parents, said she wished she had received the same information before she was married.
"Why do you get it when you get divorced and not when you're married?" Howard asked. "I'm totally convinced I would not have gotten married - or I would still be married today."