Each state has its own rules about divorce. Perhaps the most important difference is in property division; some states are community property states, others are equitable distribution states. Utah belongs to the latter group, but property division is a subject for a future post. The difference we want to talk about here is with waiting periods.
There is a difference between the residency requirement and the waiting period. The residency requirement in Utah is three months. One or both spouses must reside in the same Utah county for three months to be eligible to file for divorce. When minor children are involved, the law requires that they live with one or both parents in Utah for at least a year.
The waiting period is the time between the date the petition for divorce is filed and the earliest date the parties can sign the final decree. Utah’s waiting period is 90 days, although there are public policy exceptions to the rule — to protect spouses from domestic violence or protect children from abuse, for example.
A legislator from another state with a 90-day waiting period believes three months is not long enough for a couple to understand all of the ramifications of divorcing. He recently introduced a bill that would increase the waiting period to six months. In his opinion, the additional time will allow the couple to “rethink reconciliation.”
His focus, he says, is on preserving and strengthening the family. He admits that there should be exceptions, and the bill would add “adultery” to domestic violence situations, habitual drunkenness, extreme cruelty, insanity and a couple of other circumstances. And he has at least one supporter: A judge in his state believes the waiting period should be longer, “especially when children are involved, and even if it imposes economic hardship on the divorcing parties.
Not everyone is embracing the proposal. A representative for the Council on Contemporary Families said that there is a risk of an increase in domestic violence if the bill passes. States that have loosened divorce laws have actually reported lower domestic violence rates and lower suicide rates among wives.
How would Utah respond to a bill like this? Would we share the legislator’s belief that giving couples more time to consider their situation would lower the divorce rate, would lead to stronger families? Or would we see the dangers of forcing longer waiting periods on unhappy families, even with all the exceptions.