Debate over new pre-divorce counseling requirements rages on

On behalf of The Marks Law Firm, L.L.C. posted in Divorce on Monday, February 14, 2011

Are you in the process of getting a divorce? If so, you might be interested to know that new legislation from Nebraska and Wyoming may require mandatory couples counseling for spouses prior to calling it quits. The Huffington Post reports that obligatory pre-divorce counseling bills are being considered in both states. If approved, they could set an influential precedent for similar measures across the nation.

Our last post described the details of each bill, both of which introduced obligatory counseling measures into the divorce process. In Nebraska, the proposed legislation only requires couples to attend counseling if they have minor children or if one spouse opposes the divorce. In Wyoming, however, all divorcing couples will need to meet counseling requirements or wait a year before the petition can be filed.

Several groups and individuals have voiced serious concerns over the implications of this legislation. One therapists interviewed by the Huffington Post argues that a mere few hours of therapy is not enough time for unhappy couples to make significant progress, especially if one or both of them is an unwilling participant in the process.

Since neither of the bills provide any funding to help pay for the therapy sessions, other critics cited in the article point out that the legislation risks making divorce an elitist prerogative, available only to those who can afford it. These critics argue that it is unconstitutional to restrict couples from ending their marriage based on their economic status. The US Supreme Court previously rejected a law which attempted to institute a filing fee for divorce petitions and many believe that if these bills become law, they will face a similar fate.

Yet, despite these concerns, the proposed bills in Nebraska and Wyoming mirror similar legislation previous considered in a wide variety of State Assemblies, proving that such initiatives enjoy a good degree of popular and political support. If the mandatory counseling bills in Nebraska and Wyoming become law, they could spark the resurgence of equivalent initiatives in other states, perhaps permanently and significantly changing the divorce process. Look back for future updates regarding the fate of these bills as the legislative session continues.

Source: The Huffington Post. “Mandatory Couples Counseling Prior to Granting Divorces?” Liz Mandarano, 27 January 2011

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