Second Chance

A one-year divorce waiting period is among the recommendations of a study by the Institute for American Values as a way of reducing preventable divorce.

The study — Second Chances: A Proposal to Reduce Unnecessary Divorce, — is Intended for state lawmakers. The study not only reveals new research that is certain to dramatically change the debate surrounding this issue, but also offers concrete recommendations aimed at policy makers for modest ways to reduce unnecessary divorce.

The principal investigators of Second Chances are William J. Doherty, Professor of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota, and Leah Ward Sears, partner at Schiff Hardin LLP and former chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court.

Doherty and Sears describe two widespread misconceptions that currently exist when it comes to divorce: First, the majority of divorces happen after many years of conflict and misery, and secondly, that once a couple files for divorce, they don’t consider the idea of reconciling. Both of these popular notions are wrong.

Second Chances builds upon a growing body of scholarly research that suggest most couples who divorce are actually very similar to couples who stay married. Longitudinal research over the past decade shows that a majority of divorced couples actually report average happiness and low levels of conflict in the years prior to the divorce. Moreover, about 40 percent of U.S. couples already well into the divorce process say that one or both of them are interested in the possibility of reconciliation. In this, Doherty and Sears say that those U.S. divorces today that are most likely to harm children are precisely those divorces that appear to have the greatest potential for reconciliation.

The major findings of Second Chances include:

> About 40 percent of couples already deeply into the divorce process report that one or both spouses are interested in the possibility of reconciliation.

> A modest reduction in divorce would benefit more than 400,000 U.S. children each year.

> A modest reduction in divorce would produce significant savings for U.S. taxpayers.

Based on their research, Doherty and Sears propose a Second Chances Act for U.S. State Legislatures to consider. It would provide married couples that are thinking about divorce the time and educational resources necessary to make reconciliation a viable option. Second Chances offers three specific recommendations:

> Extend the waiting period for divorce to at least one year, with a voluntary early notification letter individuals may use to let their spouses know their intentions without necessarily filing for divorce.

> Require pre-filing education for parents of minor children considering divorce, with a module on reconciliation and a module on a non-adversarial approach to divorce.

> Create university-based centers of excellence to improve the education available to couples at risk of divorce.

“Both of us sincerely believe that the modest reforms contained in our proposed Second Chances Act can contribute measurably to reducing unnecessary divorce in the United States,” said Doherty and Sears.

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