Alabama Divorce Education Bill Would Increase Hurdles

Posted by Steven D. Eversole | Mar 23, 2015 | 0 Comments

Divorce is a difficult time for pretty much everyone involved. And yet, some lawmakers believe it should be harder.

House Bill 150 would create an additional barrier to the divorce process in Alabama by requiring married couples who have children under 18 to first complete a “marriage dissolution education program” before the divorce could be finalized.

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The measure, introduced by Rep. Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa), would require couples to pay $75 each to undergo what is essentially a counseling program under the direction of a “professional family life educator.” This person would have to be certified by the National Council on Family Relations. The sessions would include how to best carry out constructive parenting during the divorce, discussions on who children can feel their loyalties divided and how to avoid certain risk factors that could further erode ties.

The program would also contain information on the legal process of divorce, as well as information on the option the couple still has to reconcile.

Now, there is nothing wrong with parents educating themselves on how separation and divorce can affect children, and how best to minimize the emotional damage. But mandating this, along with all of the other added requirements, is troublesome for a number of reasons.

First of all, most couples who go to the trouble of seeking a divorce – particularly those with small children – are not reaching this conclusion lightly. In many cases, they have struggled for years unsuccessfully to reconcile the relationship. If reconciliation were an option, they would be pursuing it.

Secondly, the bill fails to take into account situations of domestic violence. A victim who has endured physical and sometimes sexual abuse from someone, sometimes for years, should not have to endure counseling sessions with someone who hurt them, especially when the topic of reconciliation is on the table. In some cases, such sessions may only serve to further inflame tensions, and put the victim at further risk.

There is the option in the bill for a family judge to waive the requirement, but a request for waiver would be no guarantee.

Thirdly, divorce is already expensive. That fact alone is often prohibitive for many couples, who end up staying together far longer than either of them want or than is healthy because they fear the cost of divorce. And the legislature wants to tack on yet another financial burden?

Finally, there is no suggestion that attorneys will be the ones doling out advice on the legal process of divorce in Alabama. This is concerning. There are many important and lasting legal considerations that must be made in a divorce, and one's legal rights should be outlined by someone who is dedicated to protecting their best interests. Particularly where young children are involved, there is also the need for discussions on child support, child custody, visitation and equitable distribution of property. Having a non-attorney explain these things may result in unnecessary confusion.

Couples who wish to try to work out their differences prior to divorce already have the option of doing so, via counseling and mediation. But we're talking about adults who need to given the authority to make what they consider the best decisions for their lives. While wanting to protect children is a worthwhile goal, mandating such action in what is ultimately a deeply private and personal matter is not the way to go about it.

Additional Resources:

Divorce ‘education' bill intrusion by the state, March 19, 2015, Montgomery Advertiser, Editorial

About the Author

Steven D. Eversole

J.D., Samford University's Cumberland School of Law, Birmingham, Alabama B.A., University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

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