Manship School News Service/Sarah Gamard
State Rep. Patrick Jefferson, D-Homer, foreground, and LSU Family Law professor Andrea Carroll testify Tuesday before the House Committee on Civil Law and Procedure on Jefferson’s HB136 which halves the waiting period for families with minor children seeking no-fault divorce from 365 days to 180 days.
Bill would cut waiting time for divorces
BATON ROUGE – The House Committee on Civil Law and Procedure moved House Bill 136 to the full chamber for debate that halves the waiting period for families with children seeking no-fault divorce from one year to six months.
State law originally required 180 days for parents of minor children seeking no-fault divorce. In 2006, the law was changed to double that waiting period year in an attempt to encourage reconciliation between spouses. State law currently allows spouses without minor children to only wait 180 days.
LSU Family Law professor Andrea Carroll said the bill, authored by Rep. Patrick Jefferson, D-Homer, has support from many law practitioners and the Louisiana State Law Institute.
Carroll said children are harmed by divorce, but harmed much more by the conflict between parents. She also said an entire year is enough time for divorce lawyers to play “legal games” and for new boyfriends and girlfriends of the separated parents to enter the picture.
“There’s nothing more pernicious to our children than to see two spouses who don’t speak to each other,” Jefferson said.
Carroll and Jefferson argued the current process is too complicated and expensive, especially for litigants acting as their own lawyer. Jefferson, who is an attorney in a parish close to Arkansas, said clients have left him to go elsewhere to get divorce because of this requirement.
HB136 also changes spousal support rules to permit support for both a 6-month period before and after a judgment of divorce.
Caroll said the experiment of the 2006 change has “failed” and created “unintended consequences,” mostly increased litigation and conflict between affected families. She said the law does not promote reconciliation any more than a 6-month waiting period — rather, it promotes conflict between parents.
Carroll said lawyers have not seen the predicted outcome that extended time would heal wounds. She said time fostering healing is “extremely rare” for these couples and lawyers in the field have seeen more reconciliations after the divorce judgment is entered rather than during the waiting period, according to lawyers in the field.
Both proponents acknowledged they cannot stop the social epidemic of divorce, but the revision would help mitigate damage to children.
Six months is still longer than much of the remainder of the nation.
Carroll said the vast majority of states have a waiting period between zero and 90 days. Only a few have a longer waiting period than Louisiana.
Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma, said the biggest promoter of divorce is not the time-period, but finances. “If you want to stop divorce, just make it really expensive,” he said. “You’ll cut Louisiana divorce by 45 percent within the first year.”
Magee asked specifically about Louisiana’s neighbors, such as Mississippi and Arkansas.
“Let’s not copy Mississippi and Arkansas,” joked Rep. Robbie Carter, D-Amite.
Carroll noted the bill is not derived from data, nor is it anecdotally driven.
Carroll’s colleague, LSU Law Professor John Randall Trahan, opposed the bill, says he was “surprised” to hear Carroll tell the committee there are no social science data to support her argument because the most recent data from 2011 suggests a longer waiting period actually deters divorce, while a shorter waiting period fosters higher rates of divorce.
Trahan argued that many marriages that end up in divorce “are not that conflictual and the data suggests the law should “give more people time to cool off and give them an opportunity to reconcile.”
Louisiana Family Forum Executive Director Gene Mills also disagreed with shortening the waiting period, calling the idea “a terrible thought.” He said the notion of making divorce permanent is “troubling” to him.