HeyP approx 700,000 Divorces in the United States every year 70% of them We are Started by women. In 2021, one of us (Rebecca) becomes one of those women when she files for divorce in her home state, North Carolina. But she was surprised to learn that before she could file for divorce, she needed to wait a full year first, as North Carolina is one of the few states that imposes a separation period before allowing couples to file for divorce. Although she was certain of her decision, Rebecca could do nothing but count down the days at the required hour – and remain legally married.
As a former state policy advisor and investigative journalist, we have teamed up to better understand the requirements that can prevent people from leaving unhappy marriages. Together, we researched state-by-state divorce policies and interviewed leaders in the legal and advocacy fields in an effort to make information more accessible on what is intentional. complex system. What we found was startling: Divorce in the United States is governed by an arbitrary set of policies that impede the freedom to end a marriage and have a disproportionately harmful impact on women. As confusing and uncomfortable as these laws were for Rebecca, the impact they could have on women in financially unstable or violent relationships is nothing short of devastating. Policies that keep people waiting for divorce are patriarchal at best and dangerous at worst.
Rebecca lives in one of only seven states that require couples to live in separate households before a spouse can file for divorce. North Carolina And South Carolina Each requires mandatory one-year severance periods, while Delaware, Louisiana, Montana, VermontAnd Virginia six-month term. And these are just the states that impose waiting periods before applying: 35 states require a “Cooling off period Where couples must wait for a minimum period of time after filing for divorce until it is finalized. In countries like fl, West VirginiaAnd Wyoming, This wait can be as short as 20 days. But if you are trying to get a divorce MassachusettsYou must wait at least 300 days from the time you file for divorce. And if you are really unlucky, you may live in a situation that requires it both of them Separation period and cooling off period.
These required waiting times can create dangerous situations for the people stuck in them. “The longer it takes to get that court decision, the longer the couple will have to navigate the system and have to work things out on their own,” Amy Barash, CEO of her justiceIt is a New York-based non-profit organization that provides legal services to women in need. “Usually the person for whom this presents the most challenges is the partner who has less power and money, and who is probably more involved in parenting.” In many heterosexual families, that partner is often the woman.
Read more: The gift I gave myself after my divorce
Divorce proceedings establish criteria for the division of joint marital assets and responsibilities, such as joint parenting. But for couples divorcing in a state with a required separation period, they have six months to a year of marital limbo: while they are required to live separately but remain legally married, the spouses are on their own during that period to navigate the ambiguities of married life. Finance and other roles shared. This makes women, in particular, vulnerable to exploitation, just as it is 30% of wives In dual-income homes earn more than their husbands, and earning penalty Mothers make about $16,000 each year. In states that require a period of separation for divorce, there is nothing to prevent a spouse from, for example, draining a joint bank account or selling marital property amid the breakdown of an adversarial relationship, all while still legally married.
These complex laws are relics of a Charged American Traditions: to make the divorce as difficult as possible. Until the fiftiesDivorce cases were tried in the traditional legal system that required one spouse to wrong the other under a specific set of “legitimate” reasons for ending a marriage – such as adultery or extreme cruelty. The petitioning spouse had to prove his fault, a burden that required submission The evidence is extensive and often gender biased to court. As divorce proceedings began to shift to new systems of family courts at the state level, states enacted no-fault divorce policies, whereby spouses could legally separate without having to prove fault of either spouse. During the 1970s and later, no-fault divorce became available nationwide and reduced prohibitive barriers to filing. a The rapid rise in divorce rates This followed, as individuals had, for the first time, a more accessible way to end unwanted marriages.
Today, filing for a no-fault divorce is the only option 17 states, while couples in the other 33 can choose to file by either citing a fault or no fault. If you take the no-fault path, you may avoid putting in the effort and resources needed to prove your spouse wrong in court. But because of the requirements of the separation and cooling-off period, you may still need to wait months — or more than a year — for your divorce to be finalized. Waiting period laws act as a deterrent to divorce, which still reminds us of the old fault system.
But there is some hope for change. On April 13, 2023, Representative Charles SmithState Representative from North Carolina’s 44th District, filed a bipartisan motion House Bill 604 To help reform the waiting period policy in the country. When Smith spoke with family law experts to get their opinions while drafting the bill, he asked if the one-year separation period in North Carolina came from ancient history. “They really had no other reason,” Smith shared. “It was just that before you decide if you really want a divorce, we need you to wait a year to see if you’re ready to make that decision. That’s all they gave me.”
The new bill eliminates the required one-year separation period specifically for domestic violence victims, an effort paralleling the bill recently introduced by the Republican and Democratic parties. Senate Bill 575. (Neither bill addresses the cooling-off period after the application is submitted.) Women make up 85% of the victims of domestic violence and confront The highest stakes to Serious injury or death When they try to leave their abusers. But in some states, including North Carolina, domestic violence victims must still complete mandatory waiting periods without exception before filing for divorce.
Representative Smith began his career as a domestic violence prosecutor, where he saw the danger of extended decisions in favor of victims. “With how volatile the (domestic violence) relationship can be, getting out immediately is important to break this cycle,” he said. “The longer that passes, the greater the influence of the abuser.”
These joint bills in the North Carolina legislature are a promising and renewed effort that follows a series of failed attempts across multiple states to reduce or eliminate waiting times for divorce. North Carolina 2015 An attempt to eliminate the one-year waiting period in cases where a spouse has been convicted of a felony has not succeeded, along with other bills that have stalled in 2019 And 2021. Last month, Virginia put forward a bill who died in commission. And because South Carolina’s one-year secession period is written into its constitution, any changes would require voter approval of the amendment — an effort that exacerbated the problem. failed in the past.
Each of these bills has attempted to get rid of outdated laws that put women at risk. But we need to consider how our society views divorce more broadly. “We have federal policies that positively encourage marriage,” Amy Barash told us. “We make sure that if you’re on a low income, the local area can’t charge you a fee to get your marriage license. We remove every possible barrier. But then if you choose to end that marriage, the barriers will arise in all sorts of ways. Whereas we found that 38 states It has a mandatory waiting period of sorts for even the most direct divorces, ranging from 20 to 455 days. Only 18 states They require no waiting for marriage – the longest is five days.
We need broad divorce policy reform and abolition of waiting periods in states that require them. But we also need to consider why divorce continues to be one of the most expensive, complex, and difficult divorces overwrought Life experiences of American adults. The ability and time required to end an unhappy or insecure marriage should not depend on whether you live in the Carolinas or California. We must make divorce affordable, safer, and fairer for all.
“We see divorce as a matter of social justice,” Barash said. “Highlighting the impact of ridiculously complex divorce laws is very important, especially for women.”
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