Any divorcing couple hears this sound advice: The more you can agree on terms, the better off you’ll be. When divorcing spouses avoid a contentious court battle, the process is less expensive and less emotionally difficult for all involved.
A proposed bill in the Minnesota Legislature would take the cooperative spirit an important step further by eliminating court involvement altogether. The smart idea would encourage more couples to use mediation and counseling to come to an agreement. And if kids are in the picture, it would help them do a more collaborative job of co-parenting post-divorce.
Rep. John Lesch and Sen. Sandy Pappas, both St. Paul DFLers, introduced a “cooperative private divorce” measure that would give couples an alternative to going to court. Under the proposal, those seeking a divorce would submit their “Intent to Divorce” to a state agency, where the records would be kept private.
After a 90-day period to negotiate terms and confirm their decision, the spouses would submit a “Declaration of Divorce” containing their agreements. No third-party or court review would be needed; couples would receive a certificate of divorce as legal evidence of the split.
However, if one or both parties violated the agreement or wanted to change it, they could go before a judge.
There would be obvious benefits in allowing couples who are able to end marriages between themselves, similar to how a business or contract can be dissolved by mutual agreement without going to court.
Critics of the idea argue that couples who agree on terms can already get a traditional, court-sanctioned divorce without difficulty. And some say private divorce could create legal problems down the line that attorneys and the court would have to resolve anyway.
But supporters point out that the option would not replace the current system; couples who feel they need it could still go to court.
Those urging the idea — including some family lawyers, mediators, financial advisers and therapists — recognize that such a change would require more vetting and fine-tuning before enactment. But they are hoping for an informational hearing this year and continuing conversations during the summer. We also hope these useful discussions continue.