TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas House panel began two days of discussions Wednesday about whether there are ways that the state can help keep married couples from divorcing.
Wichita Republican Rep. Steve Brunk called the hearings in the House Federal and State Affairs Committee, which he chairs, saying the state has an interest in keeping marriages together. Brunk, who opposes allowing same-sex couples to marry, said it was too early to say if the hearings will result in specific legislation, but that “Kansans can get a divorce very, very quickly,” which has a high social cost.
Glenn Stanton, a Colorado Springs, Colorado, researcher for the conservative group Focus on the Family, told the committee that he believes married people are healthier and happier than their unwed peers and the social cost of divorce to the Kansas is in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
“The impact of family strength and decline is not just a moral issue or a traditional issue. It is a civil well-being issue,” Stanton said.
All three of the speakers in the hearing spoke in favor of some sort of state program to encourage marriage and provide counseling for couples considering divorce.
Teresa Collett, a professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, who advocates for tighter abortion restrictions and conservative causes, said it is possible to drop divorce rates through “marriage reforms.” She testified that a counseling program in Ramsey County, Minnesota, which she compared to diverting criminals to treatment rather than prison time, was a success in getting some couples to reconsider divorce.
But, Democratic Rep. Valdenia Winn of Kansas City expressed skepticism during the hearing, saying the much of the data cited by the speakers was outdated. She also questioned how one could discern a good marriage from a bad one.
Marriage rates dropped 29 percent in Kansas from 1990 to 2012, but divorce rates also declined 26 percent over this period, according to the U.S. Census.
Currently, Kansas courts have the option to mandate counseling only when the divorce involves children. The state does not have a mandatory waiting period for divorce petitioners.
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