Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Covenant Marriage In Texas and Crisis Marriage Course- Two Stink Bomb Bills From Austin

This piece is from the Texas Observer. Its about a real stinker of a bill (HB 180) trying to be passed in the Texas legislature to create something called a "covenant marriage" in which parties who enter into this special marriage could not file for a divorce unless they first go to counseling. Sounds innocuous enough, but here is the kicker: either the counselor or one spouse could forever keep the other spouse from EVER filing for a divorce. All they have to say is that the marriage is "salvagable" (whatever that means). This is simple blackmail. To say nothing of the increased costs of getting a divorce this counseling would create, think of the nightmare scenario of an abusive spouse having complete veto power over an abuse victim's ability to even file for divorce simply by saying he thinks the marriage is "salvageable". Sure, the counselor could give permission to file for divorce, but under this bill, the counseling is without any time limit, and as long as they are getting paid, why would a counselor end steady work?

Another lousy bill up for consideration is HB 2684 which would require parties to wait two years (TWO YEARS!) after filing before they can finalize a divorce. Under this bill, there would only be three ways to avoid being committed to this bleak divorce limbo/hell. One would be to attend a ten hour "crisis marriage education course". The cost of such a course could easily be in the thousands and would likely not be available in all counties. Another would be to file divorce "for cause" such as adultery. What will happen as a result? We will be taking a step backwards into the bad old days before no-fault divorce when people lied in court about fake cruelty or adultery just so they can get a divorce. Naturally the other party will have to hire a lawyer to protect themselves and mitigate the possibility that these lies will result in a judge awarding more property to the other, or perhaps taking their children away. The net result of the bill is not only that the pain and cost of divorce be increased, but that one or both parties are unfairly going to get their reputation dragged through the mud on public record or even possibly face criminal charges because of these "necessary lies". In addition, it will be harder for victims of domestic violence to get out of bad marriages. The other, would be to obtain a protective order. Already there are some unscrupulous parties who will file false protective orders to gain an advantage in a divorce. No doubt you will see a ten-fold increase of false statements of domestic abuse to avoid the bureacratic red tape put up if this bill passes. Not only would this be devastating to innocent parties falsely accused, but such "cry wolf" tactics could desensitze family law judges to the point where they might turn down protective orders when they are really justified.

These bills represent wrong-brained thinking about the source of the problem of increased divorce in this country and an artless solution that totally misses the mark. The bill may go to vote this week or next. All readers are encourage to call their representative in the Texas Legislature and tell them to vote against this bad bill before it becomes bad law.

What that state has joined, let no one tear asunder—without properly signed releases and a permission slip from a counselor.

To strengthen the bonds of matrimony, Rep. Bill Zedler wants to create a second tier of marriage licenses that would be $5 cheaper, but also make it harder to get a divorce.
The idea of “covenant” marriages—already allowed in Louisiana, Arkansas and Arizona—is that couples who obtain the We Really, Really Mean It marriage license will pledge a stronger troth. Those not interested could still get a garden-variety license that allows no-fault divorces.

“It’s easier to get out of a marriage than to get a lease on your car,” Zedler says. “You often see that some flare-up happens, and with the option of a no-fault divorce, one person can decide ‘I want out,’ and that’s it.”

Couples seeking a covenant license would have to receive premarital counseling. They couldn’t divorce unless both spouses and a counselor agree the marriage is unsalvageable. (Divorce without permission slips would be permitted in cases of imprisonment, abandonment, adultery, and abuse, with certain stipulations.)

It’s tempting to make jokes about picking between two levels of hell, but family violence counselors say Zedler’s bill is no laughing matter. Battered women do not need another potential barrier when trying to escape from an abusive relationship, they say.

Under Zedler’s bill, abused spouses in a covenant marriage would have to file a police report and get a court protective order before they could legally divorce. Zedler says he plans to amend the bill to require just a sworn affidavit.

Laura Wolf, director of public policy at the Texas Council on Family Violence, says no-fault divorce is often the best option for battered victims, who may have concerns about going to public authorities. Zedler’s affidavit would require victims to state on the record that they’re being abused.

“It may be safer for a victim of family violence not to have to disclose to the general public that that’s what’s happening in her home,” Wolf says. “It would potentially expose her to greater shame, greater danger, or it might provoke her batterer into contesting a divorce.”

Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, says two women are killed every week in Texas by an intimate partner. “Texas should do nothing to place barriers in the way of those women facing that situation,” Miller says.

Wolf points out that covenant marriages are already available through churches, though the covenants have no legal standing.

“People can opt into a covenant marriage in their own faith community today, but by the state creating this option, they put victims of domestic violence at risk,” Wolf says.

Zedler says he’s doing it for the kids: “If you look at what happens to children who are in a marriage versus a divorce, there is less child abuse, less crime, they are less likely to be in poverty. The end result is that it’s beneficial for us to create an environment that helps to maintain a marriage.”



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