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Valley Perspective | PERSPECTIVE ON DIVORCE LAW

In the Children's Best Interests

Assembly measure seeks a 90-day cooling-off period for adults, plus a parenting plan to detail care of minors.

June 01, 1997|GEORGE RUNNER | Assemblyman George Runner (R-Lancaster) represents the 36th District

No one would argue that current divorce laws and the family court system are without flaw. It is clear that the innocent victims of divorce are children and that its impacts on them are substantial and often very damaging.

Under current California law, it is harder to break a business contract than a marital contract.

That is why I have introduced Assembly Bill 913, to provide mechanisms to mitigate some of the negative impacts of divorce on our young.

This bill would establish a 90-day "cooling off" period for individuals seeking dissolution of a marriage. During this period, it also would require that parents with minor children file parenting plans with the family court providing relevant details regarding their children.

I believe the cooling-off period is important primarily because it is the threshold of divorce that is one of the key points at which to intervene and mitigate the impacts on children.

Current divorce laws do not protect the minor children of divorcing couples. But the welfare of these minors should be a paramount issue, and it should be addressed while the divorce process is ongoing.

If for no other reason, consider this: One pioneering work on the subject found a 30% drop in income after divorce for children and the custodial parent. And aren't we all well aware of the problems associated with child support?

With any effort at divorce reform, it is important to clarify some issues.

In instances where individuals do not have minor children, I assume that if they want to seek a dissolution of their marital contract, the state does not have a legitimate interest in intervening in their private business. However, where there are minor children, there is a legitimate state interest in ensuring that the decision to divorce is made with full recognition of the negative impacts on the young.

There is also an important distinction to be made regarding the impacts of divorce on the children of marriages in which abuse is involved and those in which it is not.

The research indicates that minor children of abusive marriages are better off after the divorce. But in situations where abuse is not an issue, divorce has an independent, negative effect in a number of areas, including school performance, work patterns, crime, suicide, out-of-wedlock births and the propensity of the children to later become divorced themselves.

These negative effects, I believe, make the cooling-off period necessary so that individuals do not make a rash or emotional decision without considering its full effect.

The current divorce process gives our society children who do poorer in school, exhibit depression and lower self-esteem, have behavior problems and are plagued by earlier sexual and criminal activity.

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During the proposed 90-day cooling-off period, I believe that individuals seeking divorce need to consider their children. If required to submit parenting plans indicating how the children's needs would be addressed, then issues such as custody, health and welfare and monetary considerations would be addressed early--when they need to be--instead of after the home, the cars and the boats have all been divided up.

I also strongly believe that if divorcing couples begin working first on the issues regarding their minor children, that this would allow some of them to think twice before making a decision with such potentially devastating effects.

For others, placing the children's interests up front would result in early agreement, removing from the divorce and post-divorce period much of the conflict regarding them.

Current divorce laws cannot be left as they are. Assembly Bill 913 is a good first step.

I challenge the decision makers of California to assist in crafting divorce reforms that mitigate the myriad negative impacts on our children--who are indeed our future.

We owe it to them, don't we?

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