Democratic viewpoints on politics, policy and activism

Divorce Bill Would Create Conflict

Each year now for at least a decade, there has been a smorgasbord of really bad and extremist right-wing bills introduced into the Republican-dominated Oklahoma legislature, from anti-abortion measures to actions that allow discrimination against the LGBTQ community to religious intrusion initiatives that threaten the teaching of real science in our schools.

Some actually make it through the process and are later overturned by lawsuits. Others don’t make it through the process because somewhere along the line a bit of common sense kicks in among the legislative leadership. It’s a circus, and all of this has been happening in the last eight or nine years as the state faces very real fiscal problems. Nothing like a bit of cray cray to take everyone’s minds off major cuts to education funding, right?

House Bill 1277, sponsored by Rep. Travis Dunlap, a Republican from Bartlesville, is one such bill that needs to get stopped by common sense. The bill, which would restrict no-fault divorce in Oklahoma, would make children more vulnerable to the emotional upheaval of divorce and manufactured even more conflict when it’s terribly unnecessary.

Dunlap was quoted in a local story about the bill this way: “I call it human flourishing or family flourishing or those sorts of things.” Okay, “those sorts of things” really doesn’t sort it all out for anyone. Strong families are diverse and have their own unique qualities. Single-parent families, blended families, singles with a strong friendship network, all can and do flourish.

The bill would restrict the use of incompatibility for divorce for couples married 10 years or more or have minor children or when at least one of them objects to the divorce. The couple then would then have to undergo counseling. I especially think the reference in the current version of the bill stating this could come about “where one party objects in writing” is problematic. What if someone does this simply out of spite or anger? The bill has passed out of a House committee, which is not a good sign that cooler heads might prevail. Maybe the Senate will stop the bill from advancing.

We all know Oklahoma has a high divorce rate, which often lands it in the top ten for divorce among states. Much of this has to do because of marriages among young people, whose religious backgrounds and romanticized notions about marriage distort the reality. The state even implemented the failed Oklahoma Marriage Initiative in 1999 to no avail.

The last thing anyone—from counselors to attorneys— should want to do is to inject vitriol and conflict into a family situation involving children and extend psychological chaos because of some legislator’s archaic beliefs about human flourishing, but this is what the bill is designed to do. Dunlap and other Republicans want to engineer human behavior by implementing legal obstacles, but it doesn’t work that way.

There’s no real legal need for this bill. If a couple with children can agree to divorce amicably then that’s obviously the best solution. The makeup of families and marriage itself has been transforming, evolving and changing over many decades now. More people need to embrace the pluralistic nature of new family structures, but that’s something that takes time, but it’s happening, even in Oklahoma.