Giving a Second Chance to Couples in Crisis - A Year in the Life of a Troubled Marriage

American society is famous for its unusually high divorce rate. Too often, sociologists and other social scientists who dare tackle the discourse on that social stigma merely present an elaborate listing of the plethora of negative consequences of divorce on individuals and on society as a whole. The legal community has been too often, pointed at as a big contributor to that process of breaking up families. In fact, family law attorneys and especially divorce attorneys are looked upon as the vultures that feed on the carcasses of broken down families. That a possible solution to that brokenness should therefore be spearheaded by members of that same legal community just goes to show how reliable stereotypes are. A new proposal from the legal community focuses on divorce prevention. 


A former judge and a family therapist, in hoping to further reduce our divorce rate, proposed The Second Chances Act to end unnecessary divorces. http://conversationcenter.org/propositions/2011-07.pdf


One must first note that this proposition in no way opposes statutory fault-based divorce, but rather targets couples who are uncertain about divorce, or are seeking it because they are unable to communicate effectively – most notably those couples who would pursue divorce due to “irreconcilable differences” or “irretrievable breakdown.”  According to the Second Chances Act a recent study showed that “in as many as 40 percent of couples well into the divorce process, one or both of the spouses would be interested in reconciliation services. (In 10 percent of the couples, both spouses are interested but probably haven’t told each other.)”


This alternative proposition makes it very clear that the authors are highly concerned with the incidence of divorce on children, as it jeopardizes their welfare and their socio-economic future. 


The highlights of the Second Chances Act are:

-          A One year waiting period before starting the divorce proceedings, during which the couple undergoes:

o   Discernment counseling, where both parties decided whether to continue towards divorce or agree to a six month period of marital therapy and other services to see if they can restore the marriage, and

o   Pre-divorce parenting classes with reconciliation material, this would obviously be aimed at couples with children, to educate them

§  on the ravages of divorce on their children lives,

§  on how to assist their children go through the difficult transition, and

§  provide them the tools that can help reconcile their union.

To the spouse in a hurry to terminate the relationship, given the sanctity of marriage, this blogger thinks that they owe it to the level of commitment they made by marrying, to their children (if any present or future), and to the trauma of divorce on their own lives, to give a good faith effort to save their union.


Besides, what is one year if at the end of it one can leave with a mind at peace?  A year in the life of a troubled marriage can make a tremendous difference if that marriage is restored.


Between this blog as a family lawyer’s manifesto for hope in the restoration of the American family, and the Second Chances proposition which aims at salvaging family unity, there might still be hope for our divorce-ridden America yet.  The question that remains is whether those in legislative authority will head this cry for help.


[Thanks to Lydie Sop Moguem, Regent Law J.D. Candidate 2013, currently taking Family Law this fall semester.]


1 comment:

  1. This is a great step in the right direction to lower the divorce rate. However, when these couples try to reconcile, can anything learned in therapy be used later in a divorce proceeding? For instance, if the husband learns of his wife's affair during marital counseling and chooses to pursue divorce because of the affair, can the husband use that information from the counseling session to get a fault-based divorce? If so, how can couples try to reconcile if anything said or learned during the reconciliation period can be used later? To promote reconciliation, don't couples need to be open and honest?

    While these are just some of the questions that came to mind as I read about California's effort, I still think it is a good proposition.