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Published February 10, 2011, 12:00 AM

Divorce reform proposal can make difference in ND

The North Dakota Family Alliance takes exception to The Forum’s editorial characterization of SB 2367 as a “sham.”

By: Tom D. Freier, INFORUM

The North Dakota Family Alliance takes exception to The Forum’s editorial characterization of SB 2367 as a “sham.” This is a strong word meaning: a trick, false, silliness, counterfeit and purporting to be genuine. None of these words apply. We need to ask questions.

First, does the state have a vested interest in this issue? Whether we agree or not, the state is the grantor of marriage licenses and divorce decrees. Chapter 14 of the North Dakota Century Code contains hundreds of pages of law dealing with domestic relations, including marriage, divorce, child custody and parental rights and responsibilities, to mention just a few. The state, acting on behalf of its residents, has taken on the responsibility to put in place laws and rules that take into account the best interests and well-being of all.

Second, does this issue rise to the level of need that should be addressed by the Legislature?

Nationally, every year 1 million children are a product of divorce; on average in North Dakota, each year we have 4,200 marriages and 1,900 divorces, of which 900 will involve 1,600 dependent children. Put in perspective, using the trend of 1,600 children per year, in 25 years that equates to 40,000 children.

The reality is that divorce has a huge emotional impact on children. Most children fail to fully understand divorce. If adults struggle to piece together the components of the divorce, to come to grips with their feelings and emotions, how can we expect an 11-year-old to do so?

So a final question needs to be posed. Would SB 2367 have a positive influence on diminishing the number of divorces where dependent children are involved? Would requiring a 12-month waiting period as is in the bill, or even six months as some have suggested, make a difference? Would requiring counseling sessions, whether the 10 in the bill, or four or five have an impact?

Recent information seems to indicate that a waiting period including appropriate counseling sessions may well be successful in certain situations; in those cases where abuse is not involved. There are no guarantees as to how many may reconsider their plans for divorce. The question is what is the necessary return on investment? Is it 10 marriages, or 50 marriages, or is it 75 children or is it 250 children? How can we measure the impact on those children?

This is the policy decision before the Legislature. Contrary to the view of The Forum, it is a legitimate discussion. Yes, in general, it is about the benefits of marriage and family. I hope The Forum sees that as a good thing. But it specifically seeks to offer solutions to conflict and saving marriages, and especially taking into consideration the well-being of the children.

The Forum is correct when saying that divorce is personal, complicated and traumatic – but it fails to understand the real reason for this legislation – to take into account the children. If The Forum would see the overall intent of this legislation, it would not have called this measure a “sham.” It would not have accosted legislators who introduced this bill as wanting “to bring the heavy boot of government intrusion,” when their genuine efforts should be applauded.

Freier is executive director of North Dakota Family Alliance.