Next Up for Empowered Senate Republicans: Making Divorce Harder to Get

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Senate Republicans continue to have a field day after a dramatic coup that gave them dominance in their branch of the legislature. They've been trotting out all sorts of issues that normally don't see the light of day in left-leaning Olympia: parental notification of teen abortions, elimination of family and sick leave requirements (in the case of sick leave, potentially overturning a Seattle law). Up this morning: making divorce harder to get.

The same senator that brought you the parental notification bill, Don Benton of Vancouver, has introduced what he calls the "family second chances act." SB 5614 would radically increase the amount of time divorcing couples must wait before proceeding with their dissolution--from 90 days to an entire year.

The waiting period may be waived in cases of domestic violence, such as when one of the spouses is convicted of "a violent of sexual felony against the other party or a minor child." And what if a spouse is convicted of a violent or sexual felony against someone else? Apparently not grounds enough to ditch your spouse in a hurry, in the view of Benton and his nine like-minded colleagues, interestingly only one of whom is a woman (Sen. Sharon Brown, a Kennewick Republican).

A hearing is scheduled for this morning in the Senate's Law and Justice Committee.

The bill is aimed at encouraging couples to reconcile. To that end, it requires that a handbook given to estranged couples incorporate "information on the option of reconciliation, including research on the interest in reconciliation among couples considering marriage dissolution, the potential benefits of avoiding marriage dissolution," and "resources to assist with reconciliation for interested couples."

Now anybody's who's spent time in family court knows what a dispiriting affair divorce is: rife with bitterness, difficult for kids and in many cases financially ruinous. Throwing hurdles in the way of divorce is not a new idea. A similar bill passed through Olympia a decade or so ago, and it was ironic how many of the sponsoring legislators had been through a divorce themselves. When I interviewed them then, they cited that painful experience as a motivating factor.

But whether we want to turn back into a paternalistic state, keeping people together against their will, is another question--one that probably won't get much traction if this bill gets out of committee. But Benton can keep floating his hobby horses, and apparently he will. Here's what he told Crosscut in January:

Is there a pent-up demand for fair hearings on bills by Republicans? I say yes. ... There's no grand master plan. The plan for me, Don Benton, is to incorporate legislation that has been stifled by Seattle's domination in the legislative arena.

Benton has one more week to stick it to Seattle. On Feb. 22, bills must be out of committee or they're dead.

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