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Marriage business

2/11/2014

Ready to set aside alleged beliefs concerning government's intrusion into personal lives, the Kansas Legislature is considering doing away with no-fault divorces in the state.

Kansas, like every other state in the union, allows married couples to walk away from troubled relationships without blaming one of the parties for undesirable behavior. Common since the 1960s, no-fault divorces permit one of the partners to claim incompatibility, irreconcilable differences or an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. As courts don't have to spend time determining guilt or innocence, they become more neutral. The divorce process itself is spared the acrimony that arises from one publicly accusing the other of misdeeds.

The system has worked well in Kansas for years. Couples and families going through divorce proceedings are not forced to air their dirty laundry in public, allowing for less hostility and easier transitions to whatever lies ahead.

Rep. John Bradford, R-Lansing, doesn't see it that way. The author of proposed legislation that would eliminate "incompatibility" as justification for divorce believes family values are undermined by no-fault divorces. Or at least his website touted such an approach to "building strong family units" until recently.

Fellow family-values promoter Rep. Keith Esau, R-Olathe, introduced Bradford's bill to the House Judiciary Committee last week.

"No-fault divorce gives people an easy out instead of working at it," Esau said in an interview. "It would be my hope that they could work out their incompatibilities and learn to work together on things."

To encourage Kansans to work things out, this legislation eliminates one person being able to claim incompatibility as grounds for divorce. Instead, the courts are directed to grant divorce only if one of the partners was convicted of adultery, felony crime against a person or sex offense, had abandoned the home for more than a year, had physically or sexually abused the partner or a child, had failed to perform a material marital duty, or they had mental illness or mental incapacity. Courts also could decree a divorce if both partners have been living separately for one or two years depending on the situation, if both had mental illness or mental incapacity, or if both had agreed to a no-fault separation.

See the difference? If one person is stuck in some sort of abusive situation the other doesn't want to end, the victim will need to stay married for at least one or two years -- or until the abuser is convicted of the very crime the partner was attempting to get away from.

How could that be the kind of family values to which Kansas aspires? It's easy, if you don't mind having state government force your notions of marriage upon everybody else.

"If we really want to respect marriage, it needs to be a commitment that people work at and don't find arbitrary reasons to give up," Esau offered.

We would suggest if legislators really want to respect the office to which they were elected, there needs to be a commitment to do the people's work and don't find arbitrary reasons to intrude into personal lives. The state's supposed vested interest in supporting strong families should not outweigh the individual's freedom of expression, pursuit of happiness, or the right to be left alone.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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