Approximately two weeks ago a bill sponsored by State Representative Warren Chisum (R) requiring couples to attend counseling prior to filing for divorce died in the 81st legislative session. Under House Bill 480, the party seeking a divorce would have been required to attend ten hours of counseling in conflict management, communication skills and forgiveness skills. Representative Chisum sponsored the bill in order to address the state’s high divorce rate (upwards of 55% for first time marriages and 70% for subsequent marriages).
According to the Dallas Morning News the bill was popular among social conservatives and marriage counselors who claimed the bill was designed to save marriages "[t]hat have fallen on hard times." The bill would require the spouse seeking a divorce to complete the ten hour course before filing court papers; otherwise, the divorce petition would be dismissed. Further, Representative Chisum’s bill would allow to judges to decide child custody issues on whether a parent completed the required counseling.
Despite your political affiliation, I see several problems arising from Representative Chisum’s proposal: (1) Do we really want to enforce the counseling requirement in cases where the spouse filing for divorce is doing so because of domestic violence; (2) what about cases where there is alleged abuse of a child, certainly waiting to file could present issues of child safety; and (3) what if the spouse filing is doing so because of substance abuse issues of the other spouse?
Although many people walk into our office not wanting a divorce, forcing individuals to undergo an additional hurdle before filing is not the best way to address our state’s high divorce rate. A divorce is one of the most stressful events a person can endure. Obstacles like the proposed bill would only add to the stress – not alleviate it.