Raleigh, N.C. — State lawmakers are considering making divorces harder to get in North Carolina.
Senate Bill 518, dubbed the Healthy Marriage Act, would double the one-year waiting period before a divorce could be granted and would require husband and wife to receive conflict resolution counseling, as well as counseling if they have children. Supporters said they believe the restrictions will help cut the state's divorce rate.
"North Carolina has a very high divorce rate – one of the worst – and it's probably because we've been lax in our divorce laws. Made it too easy," said bill sponsor Sen. Austin Allran, R-Catawba.
North Carolina's divorce rate was 3.8 per 1,000 marriages in 2009, compared with the U.S. rate of 3.4 divorces, according to the most recent Census Bureau statistics. The state ranked 19th nationwide.
Tara Benson, whose divorce will be final at the end of the month, said she doesn't think another year of pain would have saved her marriage. She said she got married too young, and it simply didn't work.
"One year was definitely long enough, and it was too long in a lot of senses," Benson said. "I just think it delays the inevitable and just hurts in the process. It just draws out a process that you don't want to have to deal with."
North Carolina's one-year waiting period is already longer than most other Southeast states. Georgia and Tennessee, for example, require only a few weeks before a divorce is granted, and Florida couples can file online to have their marriages dissolved. Virginia and South Carolina require no more than a year's wait, and Alabama has no waiting period.
Allran said he also wants to scrap the mandatory separation during the waiting period and have couples remain under the same roof.
"Instead of telling people that they cannot cohabitate during that period of time because, after all, they are married, if they would be able to continue (living together)," he said.
The proposal doesn't offer any exceptions for domestic violence or abuse, but Allran said he might add that to the bill before its first hearing in committee, which could come this week.
Benson said lawmakers shouldn't try to make divorce any more difficult to endure for people trying to put a mistake behind them and get on with their lives.
"Neither one of us wanted to be in it anymore. We were both done," she said. "Let's move on with our lives. I've moved on, you moved on. We're both a lot happier now."