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Senate passes bill to extend waiting period for divorce

Last-ditch efforts by social conservatives helped to successfully revive legislation that would extend the waiting period to file a divorce in some cases. 

Although the legislation initially died last week on a 11-18 vote, it won approval today on a 17-12 tally.

Supporters managed to persuade enough legislators to reconsider its failure, but it took a while before senators took another vote on the bill.

“If it helps to have a little bit of a longer period of time to make a decision, a well thought out decision, then I think it could be useful,” said Sen. Lori Klein, R-Phoenix, who was among a few Republicans who initially balked at the proposal but changed their minds to support it.

The bill’s next stop is Gov. Jan Brewer’s desk.

SB1187 would extend the waiting period to file an annulment, divorce or legal separation for cases before a conciliation court, which is established by law to try and preserve marriages or reach an amicable settlement to avoid further litigation. Couples who have minor children and cases where there is some possibility of reconciliation typically wind up in a conciliation court. 

Under current law, a petition for conciliation puts a stay or hold on a divorce for up to 60 days.  

Under SB1187, a party can ask the conciliation court to extend the stay for up to 120 days if he or she can establish “good cause” for the extension. The court, however, cannot grant the extension if the other party “objects with good cause.”  

The legislation is a watered-down version of social conservatives’ long-sought goal of extending the waiting period before a divorce can be finalized.  

Backers have argued that the state has an inherent interest in trying to preserve marriages; given the psychological and emotional toll divorce has on children.  

But critics have countered that the legislation meddles in people’s private affairs and is another example of the government’s hands extending into people’s bedrooms.

Others argued that some marriages need a faster dissolution. 

Senate Majority Leader Andy Biggs said the bill would allow a party to drag things out.  

“They can have a malignant intent, a malevolent intent. They can just file this request and go through the motions to just drag this thing out,” he said. “And some marriages just ought not to be dragged out.”

Actually, the Senate already approved a slightly different version of SB1187 in February.  

When it came out of the Senate, though, the bill expressly said the court must not grant an extension if the parties have a history of domestic violence. The House amended the bill to say the court should not grant the extension if the other party “objects with good cause.”  

Sen. Linda Gray, R-Phoenix, said the change was made in response to concerns by an anti-domestic violence advocacy group, which pointed out that not all domestic violence cases have a court record. Inserting the “good cause” clause makes the language broader and gives the court more leeway.  
Gray said she reminded colleagues they already supported the bill and asked to them to vote for it again.

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