Rethinking unilateral divorce

The Deseret News has recently published an important series of articles (here and here) and an editorial on an issue that gets far less attention than it deserves — the serious consequences of our legal culture of divorce.

The basic challenge is that our current laws treat ending a marriage as a relatively minor decision (you can do it online or by drop-box in some places) when anyone touched by divorce (and especially the children of the couple who break up) knows this is just not the case. The ramifications, most of which are unintended, go on and on. It is frankly inexcusable for us to continue to ignore this reality.

During the last session, Utah’s Legislature took a small but significant step forward in restoring the 90-day waiting period between the time of filing and finalization of divorce. A much longer period is probably appropriate, but this is a good start.

Some other possibilities for reform:

  • introducing a reconciliation program to ensure that spouses do not get on the divorce track without an opportunity to rethink the decision when that is appropriate (i.e., there is no abuse or other danger in staying together); and
  • allowing courts to consider the behavior of a spouse that contributed to the breakdown of a marriage in things like property division, alimony, child custody, etc., so an innocent spouse is not victimized twice.

Public-spirited citizens and legislators will pay attention to the serious problems the Deseret News has noted with the idea that ending a marriage is “no big deal.” It is a big deal for the spouses, an enormous deal for their children, and no less significant for society as a whole. It is high time we re-injected moral seriousness into the subject.