Editorial: Divorce barriers

A bill introduced in the Kansas Legislature last week would make it far more difficult to dissolve an unsatisfactory or even dangerous marriage in Kansas.

A bill altering the grounds for divorce in the state of Kansas is drawing some well-deserved criticism.

On the surface of it, the bill seems designed to make divorces more contentious and harder to obtain in Kansas. However, some language in the bill also sets up a situation in which it could become difficult, if not impossible, for one person to obtain a divorce without the agreement of his or her spouse.

The bill introduced by Rep. Keith Esau, R-Olathe, would strike from Kansas law the word “incompatibility” as grounds for divorce. It then inserts eight new grounds for divorce, including abandonment of the “matrimonial domicile” for a year, physical or sexual abuse of the spouse or a child or conviction of a felony. Also among the grounds is if the “respondent has been convicted of the crime of adultery” as defined under the state’s criminal statutes.

When was the last time an adultery case was even filed in Kansas, let alone the last time someone was convicted in such a case? Yet, the only way to obtain a divorce based on the adultery of a spouse would be to prove it in a criminal case. Many of the other grounds for divorce would be equally difficult to prove.

Interestingly, the final addition to the list of grounds on which a divorce can be granted is if “both spouses have agreed to separate due to no fault of either spouse.” Although this bill has been portrayed as doing away with so-called “no-fault” divorce, it appears that isn’t the case, IF both parties agree.

The larger problem, it seems is that if only one party is seeking a divorce, that person would have to show not simply that he or she is incompatible with his or her spouse, but that there is some other grounds for the divorce, such as adultery, physical or sexual abuse of a spouse or child or abandonment.

That has the effect not only of making divorces far more contentious, often to the detriment of a couple’s children, but also increasing the possibility that a spouse could be trapped in a painful, or even dangerous, marriage because he or she can’t provide the kind of proof needed to obtain a divorce from a spouse that is fighting the action.

“I think we’ve made divorce way too easy in this country,” Esau said last week. “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.”

Marriage is a wonderful institution, worthy of our respect, but the fact is, some marriages simply don’t work. Among those are some marriages that pose a mental or physical threat to one spouse and/or a couple’s children. It seems unlikely that anyone who ever has gotten a divorce would describe the process as “way too easy.” It isn’t easy, and the bill introduced last week could make it far too difficult for one spouse to get out of a toxic marriage.