Topeka — The Senate rejected a bill Thursday making it harder for some couples to divorce, after members argued over how far the state should go to save troubled marriages. The vote was 15-25.
Under the bill, the state would permit no-fault divorce only for couples without dependent children living at home. No-fault divorce allows couples to end a marriage without one spouse having to allege wrongdoing by the other.
The bill was sponsored by Sen. Bob Lyon, R-Winchester, who said a high divorce rate threatens the fabric of society and traumatizes many children. About 18,000 divorces are filed annually in Kansas.
Supporters said state law makes it too easy for one spouse to end a marriage. Sen. Ed Pugh, R-Wamego, said marriages take a lot of work and pointed to his own.
"I may go home tonight and have a summons nailed to my head," he joked. "I've given her plenty of reasons over the past 28 years."
Critics said the state should not try to save troubled marriages when it doesn't know the circumstances.
"I don't believe this Legislature can engineer social relationships," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman John Vratil, R-Leawood.
State law provides three general grounds for divorce: incompatibility, failure to perform a material marital duty, or mental illness or mental incapacity. There is no requirement that both spouses agree to the divorce.
Under the bill, couples without dependent children from the marriage living at home could still get what amounts to a no-fault divorce if both were in agreement.
But if there were dependent children from the marriage, or if one spouse objected to the divorce, then the spouse seeking to end the marriage would have to allege one of nine grounds as was the case before no-fault divorce was adopted three decades ago.
"The divorce rate has been climbing for years," Pugh said. "It is a real societal problem."
But Vratil cited Census Bureau figures that showed divorces peaked in the United States at 5.2 per 1,000 residents in 1980, and dropped to 3.5 per 1,000 residents by 2000.
Critics also suggested the bill also would be costly.
The state's Office of Judicial Administration estimates that if the bill were enacted, 70 percent of divorce cases would be contested. The office said the state would need to hire another 29 judges and spend $5.7 million a year.
"This is really a lawyers' welfare bill," said Sen. Greta Goodwin, D-Winfield.
Supporters questioned the cost estimates. And Lyon called no-fault divorce "a miserable failure."
"I don't think the state can continue to claim it places a high value on marriage when it continues to trivialize it in state law," he said.
Divorce bill is SB 173.
On the Net:
Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org