Double Take: There's nothing 'small government' about Kansas' stupid divorce bill

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Join Dr. Wes on the Fox 4 Morning Show on March 3 to talk about how to motivate kids without stressing them out.

Wes: The commonality of divorce impacts teens and young adults. It undermines their trust of the “us” in our world. It makes them leery of commitment.

It will thus come as a great comfort to Kansans, already impressed with pro-spanking and anti-gay initiatives in Topeka, that legislators have found a cure for divorce — make it impossible to get one or, at least, ridiculously difficult and embarrassing.

Rep. Keith Esau, an Olathe Republican, has introduced a bill to abolish no-fault divorce by removing “incompatibility” as a legitimate reason to split. Esau and colleagues think it’s too easy to divorce.

I’ve worked a lot of divorces in my day. “Easy” isn’t the word I would have used. More like excruciating.

Legislators hope that making divorce even more agonizing will encourage couples to solve their problems and stay married.

If you’re not an attorney, therapist or someone who has divorced, the impact of this bill may not be obvious. It means you’ll have to prove to the court that you deserve to be divorced, particularly if your partner doesn’t like the idea so much. And because divorce is a matter of public record, everyone will get to see your proof, no matter how ugly. The law even specifies permissible reasons for divorce so you can pick the best weapon to destroy your ex.

This seems a puzzling idea coming from a Legislature bent on small government keeping its hands off the private lives of citizens. Or, as a recent article in the Washburn Law Review put it, marriage “should not be forced on people who no longer wish to remain married by the state. Why should it be justifiable to let the government interfere in deeply personal aspects of an individual’s life?”

I assume the bill is just too dumb to go anywhere — except its twin is now awaiting the governor’s signature in Arizona. Sadly, if it passes in Kansas, the only logical response is a disturbing one to those of us who love marriage: Many young people won’t risk getting married if they see others fighting bitterly to end a union gone bad.

Moreover, the only way to have an authentic choice to stay married is to have an authentic choice not to. Limit divorce and marriage not only becomes impractical, it becomes meaningless. Marriage is something you get up every day and decide to do, not a prison sentence for earlier bad choices, in which you’re condemned to serve out your time. That’s what it means to say “I do” and to keep saying it for as long as the marriage endures. No law can say it for you.

Kendra: Although I agree with Wes that my generation is not the most enthusiastic about monogamy and marriage, I don’t believe this bill would have any affect on marriage rates.

Why? Because people are in denial. No couple thinks they’ll be the ones to split. And while some of my peers will end up as a part of the hook-up culture anyway, divorce laws won’t be the deciding factor in whether they marry.

Unfortunately, if these couples do marry and later realize they haven’t chosen the ideal match, they could be dealing with this oppressive divorce law. If passed, this bill could force those couples to remain together.

I don’t believe in wasting time with someone else when you could be meeting the love of your life. And while living this credo is easier said than done, especially when kids are thrown into the mix, married people should be able to exercise their right to “the pursuit of happiness” as long as they do so ethically and responsibly.

To have an impact on marriage, government shouldn’t restrict the rights of others to marry or divorce based on religious views. Instead, in a more perfect world, those seeking marriage would have to prove they know what they’re getting into with a detailed plan. However, in an imperfect democratic society, even this requirement is as unrealistic as the proposed bill.

— Wes Crenshaw, Ph.D., ABPP, is author of “Dear Dr. Wes: Real Life Advice for Teens” and “Real Life Advice for Parents of Teens.” Learn about his practice Family Psychological Services at Kendra Schwartz is a Lawrence High School senior. Send your confidential 200-word question on adolescence and parenting to Double Take opinions and advice are not a substitute for psychological services.


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