Thursday, March 26, 2009

2009 Texas Legislative Session and the Conflict and Communication Skills Course

Representative Warren Chisum of Pampa, Texas has introduced a bill (HB 480) that would require the taking of a ten (10) hour course on “conflict management, communication skills and foregiveness skills,” to all parents seeking a divorce. The purpose of the course is to facilitate “marriage restoration.” Thus, the requirement only applies when the divorce is upon the “no fault” or “irreconcilable differences” portion of the statute, and not (for example) adultery or other grounds for divorce. Also, significantly, there is a provision which exempts alleged victims of domestic violence.

As I understand the bill, the person filing the divorce action (or “Petitioner”) would be required to show evidence of having completed the course at the time the Petition is filed (with a certificate attached to the Petition). If the course was not taken, then the divorce case would be dismissed. The non-filing spouse (or “Respondent”) would then have up to sixty (60) days within which to take the course. If the Respondent did not take the course, the Judge could then use this as a factor when awarding property, when ordering spousal maintenance (essentially alimony), when ordering child support payments, and/or when making orders with respect to child custody.

The obvious purpose of this bill is to make it a little more difficult to obtain a divorce, and to ensure that all reasonable avenues for reconciliation are encouraged. Although I don’t necessary think that this bill is a bad idea, I also think that in most of the divorce cases I have handled, the parties have already attended counseling and have tried many of these same strategies to no avail. As a result, I’m not sure that I’m in favor of the “foregiveness” skills portion of the course.
However, because of my opinion that most parents contemplating or going through a divorce do not adequately consider and deal with the very real emotional impact that the legal wrangling, divorce proceedings, and aftermath of the divorce have on the children. As a result, I think that the portions of the course that deal with the children are a good idea. In my opinion, parents who are going through a divorce should be required to learn strategies on how to minimize stress and disruption upon their children during and after the divorce.