Warring spouses could hold up a divorce for up to six months under the terms of legislation given preliminary Senate approval on Monday.
SB 1199 is a somewhat watered down version of the original proposal by Sen. Linda Gray, R-Glendale, who wanted to require all couples to wait six months. That is four months longer than now mandated in state law.
Under the new version, Gray agreed to let divorces go through in two months — but only if both spouses agree. The measure, which now requires a final roll-call vote, lets either party seek a delay.
Gray agreed to a provision which says that the other spouse — the one that wants the quicker dissolution — can ask a judge to overrule the delay request. But a judge would have to determine there is “good cause” for letting a marriage be dissolved in two months.
Senate Democrats found that language wanting, saying it offered no guidance to a judge. They offered a series of amendments to spell out what is “good cause,” ranging from adultery and abandonment to bringing home a sexually transmitted disease or leaving the religion.
Gray led the successful efforts to beat back each of those.
The move to make divorces a longer procedure was backed mainly by Republicans. But at least one, Sen. Carolyn Allen of Scottsdale, chided her GOP colleagues for sticking their legislative noses where she believes the change is not only a bad idea but a betrayal of Republican principles of “less government.”
“For us to pass laws that you force people to stay in a bad marriage, maybe you’ve just never had one,” Allen said. “But I find it unbelievable as Republicans that we are going to say that the government will interfere in our personal lives.”
Others, however, said the intervention is merited.
“Smart people talk, discuss and seek help,” said Sen. David Braswell, R-Phoenix. He said the legislation is necessary so that couples are “absolutely certain” they want to split up.
“Extending the divorce waiting period, especially for couples with children, simply makes good sense,” he said. “This legislation is founded on observations that shorter divorce waiting periods lead to higher divorce rates.”
Democratic foes, lacking the votes to kill the plan, sought to narrow the scope of when a spouse could force a delay.
The bill says if either party wants to extend the stay beyond 60 days, he or she must file a petition with the court citing the basis for the request. That request also may — but does not have to — include a plan for reconciliation or a counseling schedule.
It also directs a judge to grant the extension absent a showing of “good cause for proceeding without delay” by the other spouse.
The problem with that, argued foes, is it gives judges too much discretion. They sought to nail down reasons a judge would have to deny an extension.
Sen. Rebecca Rios, D-Apache Junction, proposed spelling out that incestuous behavior by one spouse is good cause for the other to demand an end to the marriage within 60 days. Gray said that was unnecessary, saying judges would recognize that fits within the “good faith exception.”
She also spoke out against a proposal by Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Tucson, to include adulterous behavior as an automatic reason to proceed with a quicker divorce.
And Sen. Debbie McCune Davis, D-Phoenix, tried unsuccessfully to have the legislation altered to say it’s a good faith reason to seek a divorce within 60 days if either spouse “refuses to attend church services or has renounced the religion to which the couple subscribed at the time of marriage.”
She said the current divorce laws work and there are plenty of good reasons why those in a bad marriage should be allowed to get out of it as soon as legally possible.
Gray has been one of the prime proponents for altering Arizona’s divorce laws which she considers too lax.
Last year she pushed a measure allowing either party in a divorce case to introduce evidence of “misconduct” by the other spouse.
That change would not have affected whether a judge could grant a divorce. The sole grounds for a court making that decision would have remained that the union is “irretrievably broken.”
But Gray wanted to remove a prohibition against judges considering “marital misconduct” when it comes to child support, dividing up community property and alimony, or spousal maintenance. That measure did not get the necessary votes for approval.