Written by Greg Griffin
In the summer of 2012, I was combing the web looking for work, and I stumbled across the Coalition for Divorce Reform’s (CDR’s) website. I read through the site and the Parental Divorce Reform Act (PDRA), the CDR’s model divorce reform legislation, with interest because my family had gone through a divorce I did not want in 2009. Little did I know how that “accidental surfing” would not only affect my world, but forever change it. In the three years since, I’ve been blessed to meet personally with Georgia governor Nathan Deal, Second Chances Act authors Dr. Bill Doherty and former Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears, many of my state’s representatives, senators, and other high ranking Georgia officials in my efforts to pass what would be the first substantive divorce reform law in our nation since Reagan signed the first no- fault law in 1969.
This incredible journey began by reaching out to CDR co-founders Beverly Willett and Chris Gersten to learn how the Coalition came to be and how I could join in this initiative. Ever since my family’s divorce, I had been thinking something should be done to help families like mine because the legal process was so lightning fast quick, with little concern for our two sons, much less my wife or me. In Georgia, a no-fault divorce is granted as quickly as 30 days after filing, so the marriage is legally over before you know it.
From Beverly and Chris, I learned more about the PDRA, and felt called to pursue a bill in Georgia utilizing the key points of the PDRA. Equipped with their encouragement and help in making influential connections, I began the process of figuring out how and where to start. I had a few months before our General Assembly would convene, so I strategized how to best prepare. With the help of a few friends who believed in me and the vision, a colleague and I started a nonprofit, Allies for Family Life (www.allforfamlife.org). We knew there was a greater purpose for Allies beyond lobbying for a bill, but it was our first priority. The more I pursued the initiative, the more I realized I didn’t need a law degree or any special training, just a passion to see change and serve children and their families.
After months of work and networking, our bill, which we call the Children’s Hope for Family Act (www.childrenshopeforfamilyact.org), was introduced on the next to last day of the 2013 session. We worked hard in the off-season to gather support and though we did gain a subcommittee hearing in the 2014 session, our bill died, as it never reached a vote.
Learning much in that process, we made revisions and were able to get the bill introduced again (HB 680) in 2015, by Representative Ed Setzler. This updated version of the Children’s Hope for Family Act simply requires the petitioning parent of minor children who is seeking divorce to complete a four-hour family and relationship education course, online or in person prior to filing. The basics of the proposed course as outlined in our bill include 1) education about the outcome of divorce on families, especially children, 2) review of the benefits of marriage, 3) instruction on financial planning, communication skills, conflict resolution, and healthy relationship qualities, and options for reconciliation or mediation.
One of the revisions we decided to make was to eliminate the “time” requirement. Research clearly shows that states who have longer “waiting periods” have lower divorce rates, but that portion of our previous bill was problematic for most legislators with whom we spoke. Because of Georgia’s 30-day waiting period, our proposal to extend that period as we had originally hoped was not feasible right now.
Even in its scaled back form, our Act has the potential to save many, many families from the heartache of a broken home, every year. We continue to point to the respected research behind the PDRA which indicates with an “informed consent” educational approach specified in our Act, a significant number of parents would reconsider their plan to divorce, and instead explore the resource options provided in the education to seek the specific help they need, whether it be in the area of finances, relationship skills building, or counseling.
Now that our Act is a live bill, we have until the end of the 2016 session to get it passed. The General Assembly concluded this year’s session last spring, so our work now shifts to personal meetings with influential legislators to pave the way as best we can for a successful run this winter. It’s daunting and difficult work, but it’s worth it. What fuels me forward are thoughts about families who, with a little help and education through a more family-friendly divorce process, might choose to pause and calm down, or even rethink their future. Our Act has the power to help thousands of families create a more desirable legacy for themselves, their children and their children’s families.
If our initiative touches your heart, find out how you can help by contacting me at [email protected]. Perhaps we can serve you as well, by sharing what we’ve learned and helping you lead the charge for family law reform in your state.