Oklahoma's New Divorce Law: Can Forced Marriage Counseling Work?

Marriage Counselor: Can Forced Marriage Counseling Work?

Oklahoma recently passed a law hoping to curb divorce rates.

Oklahoma may be a state known for the Sooners, but when it comes to divorce, it turns out the state is more about the latter. In fact, a new law now stands between married couples with children, and the permanent separation they are seeking. This law, signed by Governor Mary Fallin, mandates that married couples who have children under 18 must complete an educational program before divorcing. They must foot the bill for this as well.

Many initial reactions to this is one of disagreement: people believe the government really has no right to tell people when they are allowed to divorce. This disgust is likely compounded by the fact that politicians, from JFK to Bill Clinton, from John Edwards to Gary Condit, have a long history of shaky marriages — marriages that were shaky because of their self-imposed rattling. In other words, how to make a marriage work — as told by politicians — kind of seems on the same level as how to succeed in the NFL as told by Ryan Leaf. 

At its root, this law is walking a slippery slope of the government sticking its nose simply where it does not belong. And, of course, there is the fact that couples wishing to divorce must pay for their classes themselves. Admittedly, it doesn't sound like they're all that expensive when sources suggest couples won't pay more than sixty dollars, but even small amounts of money can be large amounts to some people. When this is added to the expensive cost of divorce, it can compound an already financially difficult situation.

With this law, Oklahoma does allow its citizens life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but only after classes are completed. This law could even put people in potentially dangerous situations. How does this law apply to relationships that are ending due to emotional, psychological, or physical abuse? Are victims of domestic violence expected to attend classes with their abusers, side by side? While the law enables judges to waive the classes under certain circumstances, and allow a divorce to proceed as normal, in "he said/she said" situations, will they?

The flipside of this argument concerns the children, which this law aims to benefit. Many people probably concede that most children would prefer to have their parents remain together. Many also agree that people give up on their marriage way too quickly, and professional marriage counseling should be considered before two people legally go their separate ways. On the other hand, people should fight for their marriage, and for their children because they want to, not because the government tells them they have to. People have a right to choose who to love, and who not to love without the government calling the shots.

This new law could also backfire; it may end up keeping people who are miserable together because of the cost, because of the principles, or because of it involving just another roll of red tape they don't want to cut through. In doing this, it can make children just as unhappy as their parents.

There is a subset of children who envy the kids of moms and dads who have split up. These are the kids who live in homes with constant fighting, yelling, threatening, and all around misery. These children prove that there are worse things in the world than a married couple who calls it quits. It seems like growing up in a house of hostility would be more damaging to a young person's psyche than growing up in two separate houses of happiness.

Ultimately, a law such as this may force couples to work on their issues, and prevent them from making a life-changing decision out of rashness, spite, or anger. It may very well save some marriages. And if it does, good for it. Marriage is sacred and should be treated as such. But, partners wanting to work on their marriage are very different from partners who are being forced. It's similar to a junkie forced into rehab: they won't get better until it is their choice to do so.

Odds are that this law will somehow make a difference. But, whether that difference is one that is positive, or one that is negative remains to be seen. And only time will reveal the answer.

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