A Senate committee heard testimony Friday morning on a bill that would extend the waiting period for a couple before being granted a divorce.
Supporters of the “Family Second Chances Act,” which would extend the waiting period from 90 days to one year, say the bill would lower the state’s rate of divorce and its devastating effects.
“Divorce causes poverty, juvenile delinquency and lower scholastic achievement among children,” said Sen. Don Benton (R-Vancouver), the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 5614. “It’s an attempt to try to keep families together, to try to give children a better chance at success and ultimately a third win is saving tax payers money.”
Pamela Sherbrooke, a practicing family therapist, told the committee a longer waiting period would prevent couples from rushing into divorce proceedings.
“I see a tremendous number of people who have divorced. The majority by far regret the divorce from both sides,” she said. “I was told a long time ago that happy marriages rely on one thing more than anything else and that’s forgiveness. Forgiveness is a process and it takes time.”
Under the proposal, the one year waiting period would be waived if the relationship was abusive, resulting in a felony conviction or protection order.
Some lawmakers and women’s rights advocates have concerns those exceptions are too limited.
“In my perception, domestic violence can occur without resulting in a felony. There can be patterns exhibited and harmful situations. We do know that many spouses are reluctant to report because of fear,” Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) said.
Rick Bartholomew, a family attorney from Olympia, took issue with the length of the waiting period.
“People don’t get up one morning and decide, gee, I think I am going to go file for divorce today. The people who file for divorce have thought about it, in my experience, long and hard and I don’t think the waiting period is going to help,” he said.
Under the proposed bill, people seeking dissolution would also have to prove they have read and understand a handbook explaining Washington’s divorce law.
The committee did not take action on the bill.