Delaying Divorce to Save Marriages

Delaying Divorce to Save Marriages

Conventional wisdom holds that about half of U.S. marriages end in divorce — and that most Americans wish the divorce rate were lower. Still, many are skeptical about whether we can lower the divorce rate without trapping more people in bad marriages.

This skepticism is fueled by two common assumptions: Divorce happens only after a long process of misery and conflict; and, once couples file for divorce, they don’t entertain the idea of reconciling. We now know those assumptions are wrong. Research over the past decade has shown that a major share of divorces (50 to 66 percent, depending on the study) occur between couples who had average happiness and low levels of conflict in the years before the divorce. In other words, a substantial number of today’s divorces may be preventable.

We propose a modest reform that U.S. state legislatures can enact: the Second Chances Act, which combines a minimum, one-year waiting period for divorce with education about the option of reconciliation. A one-year waiting period would ensure that the law is not moving couples — who are often at one of the most intense emotional periods of their lives — more rapidly toward divorce than perhaps they intended or wanted.

Our proposal, which we plan to roll out to a few states and then pursue nationally, would also require parents of minor children considering divorce to take a parenting education course. This education component, which could be completed online, would include information on reconciliation and information on a non-adversarial approach to divorce.

We are under no illusion that the Second Chances Act is a cure for lowering divorce rates. And we are certainly not advocating keeping destructive marriages together. (Under our proposal, the waiting period can be waived if there is abuse.) But we now know that a significant number of divorces may be preventable. This modest reform could spare many couples and children the pain of an unnecessary divorce.

Adapted from an article written by William J. Doherty and Leah Ward Sears. Originally published in The Washington Post on October 20, 2011.

Link to printable version of “Delaying Divorce to Save Marriages.”

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