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Legislation getting in the way of divorce mediation?

Divorce is a process where the moment it starts, couples ending their marriage want it to end. For that reason, many soon-to-be ex-spouses choose divorce mediation to minimize not only the cost, but also the time it takes to finalize the marital dissolution.

However, some lawmakers, including one in Oklahoma for example, are advocating legislation that would ensure that couples have a long wait before they begin new chapters in their lives.

Oklahoma State representative Travis Dunlap wants people to consider the consequences of divorce on not only them, but also society. He hopes that the legislation he wrote will strengthen the power of a spouse who wants to continue working on the marriage. Ideally, he hopes his restrictions will deter people from seeking divorce altogether.

In his bill, a couple who is ending their marriage due to incompatibility - the most common grounds for divorce - must wait at least six months before the divorce is granted. During that time, they must attend mandatory marriage counseling. If a trial ensues, the at-fault party must pay for litigation.

One of the more controversial clauses would automatically award a wife 75 percent of the marital assets if the marriage ends due to a husband's impotence.

That specific language aside, the detrimental effects of Dunlap's bill are numerous and could extend beyond the borders of Oklahoma:

  • A protracted divorce is not in the best interests of parents or children
  • The inherently adversarial process only increases hostility and the ability of parents to work together
  • Longer wait times only prolong the uncertainty and chaos while couples spend more time playing the "blame game" in and out of court

Also numerous are the benefits of pursuing a respectful and relatively peaceful process that comes with divorce mediation:

  • A focus on protecting the children from the ill-effects of a messy break up
  • Cooperative co-parenting that is more likely to occur when an attorney-mediator facilitates a two-way process
  • Children re-establishing much-needed equilibrium during a time of significant change

Elected policymakers have an important role in fine-tuning divorce law as society evolves. Their job should be to encourage divorce mediation, not a divorce mess.

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