BATON ROUGE — Louisiana lawmakers are considering whether to shorten the wait to six months for a no-fault divorce when the married couple has children under 18.
Under existing law, such couples must live separate and apart for one year before they can get a divorce, unless there are certain special circumstances like domestic abuse. The longer waiting period doesn’t apply when couples have minor children from previous relationships.
A proposal advanced Tuesday to the full House for debate would reduce that separation requirement to six months. That would match the 180-day wait allowed for childless couples and couples with children 18 and older.
Supporters of the longer wait period said it gives couples more time to reconcile. Those seeking to shorten the wait said the extra six months, enacted a decade ago, have only increased the time that couples bicker and boosted the money paid to divorce lawyers.
The bill — sponsored by Rep. Patrick Jefferson, a Homer Democrat — was recommended by the Louisiana State Law Institute, which studies complex legal issues for the Legislature.
Andrea Carroll, an LSU family law professor who spoke on behalf of the institute, said judges and lawyers involved in divorce cases don’t report seeing more couples reuniting because of the longer wait period.
“Am I suggesting that no one has ever reconciled within the six-month and one-year period? No, of course not. But the judges and lawyers that work with this every day feel that is extremely rare,” she told the House Committee on Civil Law and Procedure.
Carroll said the Law Institute felt the changes would make Louisiana’s divorce laws consistent and reduce conflict between divorcing parents, conflict that she said is harmful to children. The bill also would tweak spousal support laws to lessen their complexity, she said.
Michelle Ghetti, a Southern University law professor, supported the lengthened waiting period that Louisiana lawmakers passed in 2006, and she said there’s no reason to change it back. She said divorce and “lack of a coherent home” increase the likelihood of homelessness in children, teenage drug use, gang membership and youth suicide.
“I think history has proven that making divorce easier to get has done nothing to improve the situation for children,” she said.
Gene Mills, president of the conservative Louisiana Family Forum, called the wait time a “cooling-off period” and opposed the proposal to shrink it. He said if the concern is about having a two-tiered system with different rules for divorces, lawmakers could increase the separation requirement to a year for everyone.
Jefferson said forcing people to stay legally married longer won’t “solve the social problem of divorce.”
Rep. Greg Cromer, a Slidell Republican, sought to kill the bill, but lawmakers on the panel voted 5-3 vote against his motion. The committee then advanced the proposal without objection to the full House for consideration.