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North Dakota’s Divorce Bill Revisited

North Dakota divorceDivorce is a hot topic in any society because it involves family values, religion, and personal beliefs. Some people find divorce a non-option, while others view is as a sign of an evolved society. Divorce is, however, as personal a choice as religion; therefore, it should be left for the individual to decide on. But apparently, some North Dakota senators haven’t received that memo about free will.

The Original Senate Bill 2367

The good people of North Dakota dodged a legislative bullet in 2011 when Senate Bill 2367 was rejected. Bill 2367 was brought to the Senate by Senators Larsen, Sitte, and Wanzek, and supported by Representatives Grande, Koppelman, and Ruby. The bill originally recommended a two-fold change in North Dakota divorces with children involved:

  1. Extend the waiting period to 1 year, which would mean spouses would have to wait 1 year after filing for divorce before continuing the divorce process. If there is “substantiated allegations of domestic abuse,” the waiting period may be waived.
  2. Instate mandatory marital counseling of 10 hours, which must be provided by the spouses themselves. The spouses may undergo marital counseling together or separately as long as the sessions are with a “paid or volunteer counselor, clergy member, or any state-certified or licensed marriage mediator.” Four sessions must focus on post-marital finances.

The bill was rejected by the Senate, but was allowed to be revised into “[a] bill to provide for legislative management study relating to divorce reform and education.” In other words, instead of letting the unwanted bill die in the Senate, the Senators decided to turn it into an opportunity to study divorce on children in North Dakota.

Recently, a revised Senate Bill 2367 has found its way back into the Senate and currently awaits deliberation.

Is the New Senate Bill 2367 Good Enough?

The new Senate Bill 2367 has one major revision, but will it be enough to pass the Senate? The revised bill cut the proposed waiting period in half, so now spouses with children seeking a divorce only have to wait 6 months to finalize the divorce after filing the divorce petition. The spouses must still go through 10 hours of marital counseling, and pay for it out of pocket. However, if there is “substantiated” domestic violence in the marriage, the waiting period is waived.

The downsized waiting period is a step in the right direction, but there are still a number of vaguely written sand traps waiting for unsuspecting divorcees to fall right into.

  1. What constitutes a “substantiated allegation”? Sure, if one was a victim of domestic violence and they went to the hospital for treatment, they could use hospital records as evidence or proof; if the victim called the police, they could use the police report or 911 call transcript. But not many victims seek medical attention or help. In fact, it’s estimated only about 25% of domestic violence incidents are reported or documented. Before this bill is passed, it should be clear what constitutes a “substantiated allegation.” If this vagueness is overlooked, the state of North Dakota could be sentencing a victim of domestic violence to 6 months of torment and fear.
  2. Marital counseling is expensive, and not available to everyone. The average cost of marital counseling is $100, and that’s per hour. $100 is a conservative price for counseling, which would bring the (conservative) cost of North Dakota divorce to an additional $600. It’s commendable the authors of Bill 2367 recognized the cost of this additional legislation and noted the counselor could be a “paid or volunteer counselor” or “clergyman.” However, the additional cost makes divorce out of low-income spouses’ reach; does that sound like a violation of civil rights to anyone else?
  3. A bill for the children should think of the children. Senate Bill 2367 was drafted out of regard and in consideration of the children of divorce. But I ask the authors if forcing parents, who clearly want a divorce, to continue to be married is beneficial for the children. Court-administered co-parenting classes would be a better option of looking out for the children of divorce than making the children live in a toxic, stressful home.

Have anything to contribute to the discussion of North Dakota’s Senate Bill 2367? We’re all ears (or eyes, since this a written medium).

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