Recent research from the University of Minnesota’s Bill Doherty, finds that nearly 40 percent of couples already in the divorce process are interested in the possibility of reconciliation. These hopeful findings coupled with a new divorce reform law in Oklahoma could help make a dent in Oklahoma’s persistently high divorce rate that continues to splinter families and communities.
Led by state Representatives Mark McCullough (Sapulpa), Jason Nelson (Oklahoma City) and state Sen. Rob Standridge (Norman), the Oklahoma Legislature passed and Gov. Fallin signed a reform to the state’s “no-fault” divorce law that went into effect Nov. 1, 2014.
House Bill 2249 provides couples on the divorce super-highway a chance to take a detour to more fully think about the consequences of divorce for them and their children. HB 2249 is an extension of an already existing law which allowed judges to order parental education focused on post-divorce parenting. However, the new law provides parents pre-divorce education regarding the significant impact divorce has on children.
Although pop culture pushes a narrative that children are resilient and will always recover from the troubles of divorce, studies consistently show that divorce has a measurable, negative impact on a child’s well-being that can extend into adulthood.
The new law, the Pre-divorce Parent Education law, applies in all divorce cases filed based on incompatibility where children under the age of 18 are involved. In such cases, couples must attend, separately or together, an educational program concerning the impact of divorce on children. The educational program must at least cover the following topics:
- Short and long-term effects of divorce on child well-being
- Reconciliation as an optional outcome
- Effects of family violence
- Potential child behaviors and emotional issues during and after divorce
- How parents should respond to the child’s behavioral and emotional needs,
- Communication strategies to reduce conflict and facilitate cooperative co-parenting; and
- Area resources, including, but not limited to, nonprofit and/or religious organizations available to address issues of substance abuse or other addictions, family violence, behavioral health, individual and couples counseling, and financial planning. Because of the serious concerns with domestic violence in Oklahoma, judges can waive the classes when the safety of a spouse or child(ren) is threatened.
Fortunately, nothing in the law prohibits or restricts churches or ministries from serving as either an education program provider or having a program listed as an “Area Resource” couples can explore to address specific areas. For example, a church’s Celebrate Recovery program could be listed as an area resource to help a couple deal with substance abuse or other addictions. Similarly, a church’s Financial Peace University could be listed as an area resource for couples needing assistance with finances.
Programs have already started across the state. A list of some of the programs currently up and running, can be found at: www.projectrelate.com/divorce.
I, as President of the Family Policy Institute of Oklahoma, which provided research to legislators wanting to learn more about divorce alternatives, encourage churches and ministries to pray about and consider their role in the new parental education law. The law will not end Oklahoma’s divorce problem, but it can make an impact in ending unnecessary divorce and protecting children. The law provides churches and ministries a new opportunity to consider their mission in being salt and light in their community while also strengthening families. FPIO is happy to assist churches and ministries in learning more about the law and exploring how it can be practically implemented.
To contact FPIO, email [email protected], call 405/664-6514 or visit our website at www.okfamily.org.