Representative pushes to ‘protect marriage’
By LPR Staff
A Panhandle legislator plans to reintroduce legislation during the 81st Legislative Session that will require a two-year waiting period before Texas couples are granted a divorce.
State Representative Warren Chisum (R – Pampa) introduced a similar proposal in 2007, and said he plans to revive the bill next year. Currentl
y the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Chishum has been married for 50 years, and has openly said he plans to attack Texas’ “divorce problem from both ends – at the beginning and at the end.”
One of Chisum’s marriage bills, a requirement to double the fee for a marriage license or require couples to take an eight-hour “premarital class,” will go into effect Sept. 1, 2008. According to Caldwell County Clerk Nina Sells, the fee for a marriage license will increase from $30 to $60 later this year.
In addition to his legislative duties, Chisum sits on the board of directors of the Texas Conservative Coalition, “the conservative caucus of the Texas Legislature.” The Coalition was, in part, responsible for both of Chisum’s marriage initiatives.
Chisum’s waiting period measure, which died in committee during the last legislative session, will require couples to either wait two years before a divorce is granted, or to participate in ten hours of coursework within a 48-hour period. The coursework, he said, is designed to save marriages.
He calls the measure an “effort to keep families together.”
Austin family law attorney E. Craig Lusk, who has specialized in family law for almost 15 years, said the measure is a good idea in theory, but expressed concern that it might be too far-reaching.
“Realistically, I don’t think it’s a bad idea to send [couples] to classes, and the Texas Family Code already has a provision allowing the judge to order them into counseling,” he said. “But with the waiting period we already have in place, people have the chance to think about the divorce and make sure it’s what they really want to do.”
Lusk also said most divorces, with the exception of uncontested divorces in which couples split without children or property, take longer than Texas’ current 60-day waiting period.
“When children and property are involved, divorces can be complicated and time consuming, even when there are agreements on custody and property,” Lusk said. “What I often see with my clients is that during that time, even in the best cases, people are trying to work together and do the best thing, not only for themselves, but for their children and their spouses.”
The measures currently in place to maintain the well-being of the children of divorcing parents are sufficient, Lusk said.
“Many counties already require parents to take parenting classes before granting a divorce,” he said. “The only thing, really, I can see this law doing is making money for the people that hold those kind of classes, and making it take longer for some divorces to finalize.”
Despite Chisum’s seeming fear that Texans use divorce as an “easy out,” Lusk said he does not see that being a problem.
“I think when people, with or without children, care about one another and care about being married, a divorce is a longer and more difficult process,” he said. “It’s those couples that don’t care about being married and really don’t care about each other anymore that this bill will affect the most, and those are the people that could be affected negatively.”
In a mobile society that is more far-reaching than it used to be, with the popularity of telecommuting and a worldwide market, people do not want to be saddled with a lengthy divorce from a spouse they no longer love, Lusk said. In those cases, should the measure pass, Lusk said he would advise his clients to take the class and “get it over with,” without expecting the marriage to gain anything from the counseling.
Some opponents to the measure suggest such a waiting period could create dangerous situations in the case of abusive marriages, a concern Lusk said initial talk about the measure does not address.
“I would think, if this bill makes it out of committee, that there needs to be an opportunity for a judicial waiver in place,” he said. “And if that’s the case, would it cause an increase in people alleging abuse, just to get around taking the class? There are a lot of particulars that I think this is going to need to address to make sure it doesn’t create more problems than it solves.”
Chisum said the measure is intended to attack the “no fault”divorce, in which couples are not required to prove that anyone is at fault for the divorce. Known in universal terms as “irreconcilable differences,” a no-fault divorce in Texas is based on “insupportability,” meaning that “the Court may grant a divorce without regard to fault if the marriage has become insupportable because of discord or conflict of personalities that destroys the legitimate ends of the marital relationship and prevents any reasonable expectation of reconciliation.”
Sells said 189 marriage certificates were granted in Caldwell County in 2007, and 108 have already been granted this year. According to the Caldwell County District Clerk’s office, there were 170 divorces last year.
Representative Patrick Rose was unavailable for comment on the measure, and has not returned calls requesting additional information.