A new law taking effect Nov. 1, makes couples wanting a divorce take a class first if underage children are involved.
The measure was meant to lower our state's high divorce rates and help kids cope, but some experts said they have serious concerns with the law.
“I think that it is a good idea, I think parents will think about the divorce and impact that it has on the children and it will help them see the consequences,” said Teresa Deck, Director of Counseling at Sunbeam Family Services.
Parents who cite incompatibility as the reason they are divorcing must now take educational courses.
The courses cover topics like the effects of divorce on children, reconciliation options, family violence effects, potential child behaviors to expect, strategies to reduce conflict and co-parenting tips, as well as family service resources.
Deck said she believes the courses could prevent some divorces or help parents brace for what is coming if the divorce is finalized.
“There can be some anxiety or worry, the separation from one parent to the other just going from different homes can affect their school work and affect their friendships,” Deck explained.
However, lawyer Gail Stricklin said the new law poses a threat when it comes to victims of violence and protective parents trying to get out of an abusive relationship.
“Very discretionary matter and it's going to vary from judge to judge, so we don't have consistent treatment for victims of violence and they are again re-victimized by the legal system,” Stricklin explained.
The law has no specific exemption for victims of violence, just a "good cause" exemption.
That means judges decide which couples are exempt.
Domestic violence experts said you are at the highest risk of being harmed when you separate from an abusive partner.
With the new law requiring educational classes to get a divorce, those parents may have to take an educational course together, face-to-face.
“We all want to encourage someone to get away from an abusive relationship, but if you are in the same parenting class, which in many counties is the only option, you are going to have some incidents,” Stricklin added.
The law also said both partners must get the certificate of completion to move forward with divorce proceedings.
The courses will be anywhere from $15 to $60.
Judges will decide how many hours are required and whether couples take the courses separately or together.