A bill that modifies the current law requiring anyone filing for divorce to take mandatory divorce education classes is moving through the Legislature.
Currently people with minor children filing for divorce are required to take two classes: one is a divorce orientation class aimed at educating people about the divorce process, and the second class addresses the needs of children both during and after the divorce process.
Legislators are pushing legislation that will require these classes to be taken before a person files for divorce instead of after filing, as the law presently requires. HB 290, sponsored by Rep. Jim Nielson, R-Bountiful, requires that the person filing for a divorce must complete the class before filing, instead of within 60 days after filing, as is currently mandated by state law. The other party in the divorce would have to complete the course within 30 days of being served a notice of divorce proceedings.
The move could be significant in Tooele County, where the number of divorced people exceeds state and national averages. According to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2005- 09 American Community Survey, 12.2 percent of men and 12.1 percent of women in Tooele County have been divorced. That is considerably higher than the national rate — 9.2 percent of men, 11.6 percent of women — and the statewide rate — 7.9 percent of men, 9.9 percent of women.
“It is a good idea,” said Darlene Christensen, family and consumer agent for the Tooele County USU extension office, of the proposed legislation. “I don’t know if it will reduce the divorce rate, but it will help lower the negativity that surrounds a divorce and affects children.”
The divorce classes, which are administered by the Utah State Courts and generally taught in Tooele County once a month at the Tooele County Courthouse, last one hour each and include topics such as alternative options to divorce, resources available for solving custody issues, resources for strengthening marriage, and alternatives to divorce proceedings. Parties to the divorce are not required to take the class together. HB 290 also contains language that allows the class to be taught in person, online or by video.
“The class helps to reduce contention and reminds the participants that they need to consider the children,” said Christensen. “A divorce can be very hard on the children and the tension between parents can make it worse.”
Richard Tanner, a family law attorney in Tooele, also supports the new legislation.
“It is not a bad idea to require the class earlier on in the process,” said Tanner. “Some people that file for divorce don’t understand the process and it may cause some people to think twice and change their minds before they file.”
Rep. Ronda Menlove, RGarland, said the goal of the new bill is to force people to confront the issues raised by the class much earlier in divorce proceedings.
“The plan is to move up the class earlier in the process so it can have a bigger impact on the parents and make things better for the children,” Menlove said. Menlove sits on the House Health and Human Services committee that voted Wednesday to send the bill to the full House with a recommendation the bill be passed.