Can changes is the law change morality? Can legislative reform help individuals make better decisions that lead to happier lives? Is the law capable of anything beyond punishing wrongdoers? I think so and Rep. Ernie Alexander apparently is confident that better laws can help strengthen families. His recent marriage-strengthening initiative is already capturing national attention. The Advocate is a daily newspaper based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana which published this letter on July 14, 2006.
Hailed as the first uniformly applicable legislation since “no-fault” was introduced in 1969 that makes divorce harder to get, Act 743 doubles the living-separate-and-apart waiting period from six months to one year when minor children would be affected by a no-fault divorce. If it is demonstrated that one spouse is guilty of child or spousal abuse, the current waiting period remains unaffected.
Alexander justified his legislation on the basis that divorce hurts children: “We know that in one-parent families, a child is twice as likely to drop out of school, three times as likely to become pregnant as a teenager, six times more likely to be in poverty and 12 times more likely to be incarcerated.” And he cited a study that said the change could cut the divorce rate by 23 percent.
Sen. Bob Kostelka, a retired judge who led the fight for the law in Louisiana’s Senate, reasoned that divorces “were often granted before the couple had worked out issues of child custody and support. That removed the option of reconciliation, because they would be divorced before they had settled important issues” that might have prompted meaningful counseling.
Louisiana Family Forum Action supported this reform legislation that aligns with recent polling data showing that 60 percent of Louisianians believe “divorce should be more difficult to get for couples with minor children than other couples.” A Time-CNN national poll has agreed with these findings.
Moreover, a study by Dr. Linda Waite revealed that “86 percent of unhappily married people who stick it out, find that, five years later, their marriages are happier.” Three-fifths who said their marriages were unhappy in the late 1980s and who stayed married, said their marriages were either “very happy” or “happy” when reinterviewed in the early 1990s.
Act 743 becomes the first enactment in pursuance of a 2001 study by the Louisiana Law Institute urging the Legislature to consider a number of divorce reforms, including longer cooling-off periods.