Seven Republicans in the Iowa House are pushing a bill to prohibit parents of minor children from getting a “no fault” divorce and the proposal could be debated in a House committee this week.
A three-member subcommittee debated the bill today. Representative Tedd Gassman, a Republican from Scarville, said he’s concerned about the negative impact divorce has on children.
“In my opinion, it’s time to look out for the children instead of constantly worrying about the adults,” Gassman said.
Daren Clark of Forest City — one of Gassman’s constituents — spoke about his recent divorce and the ongoing conflict with his ex-wife over custody of their two young children.
“The no-fault divorce law which was introduced in California in 1969 created the attitude of ‘do what’s best for me’ which has damaged thousands of families and their children. There needs to be reform of some kind in the no-fault divorce law. I’m going what I’ve told my kids to do: talk to those who can help,” Clark said, his voice breaking with emotion as he spoke to legislators and pleaded: “Ease the pain for thousands of kids and their families.”
Under the proposed legislation, parents with kids under the age of 18 could not get a no-fault divorce. Instead, they’d have to show a spouse was guilty of adultery, had been sent to prison on a felony conviction, had physically or sexually abused someone in the family, or had abandoned the family for at least a year.
“This basically is an attempt on my part to keep fathers in the home,” Gassman said. “I sincerely believe that the family is the foundation of this nation and this nation will go the direction of our families. If our families break up, so will this nation.”
Parents who have lived separately for at least two years could use that as a “fault” for a divorce, however.
Rachel Scott of the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence told lawmakers the changes proposed often make homes a more dangerous place.
“One of the things that we’ve seen with places where there is fault divorce is it escalates tension and conflict between the two individuals,” Scott said.
Representative Marti Anderson, a Democrat from Des Moines who opposes the bill, said the tension in her childhood home lasted eight years, until her parents divorced back when fault had to be proven.
“The stay-together time was very, very damaging to my family,” said Anderson — the oldest of four children, “and although we’re all adults now, I’m not sure any of us have ever really gotten past that.”
Karl Schilling of the Iowa Organization for Victim Assistance said no-fault divorce was a carefully crafted solution to deal with those kind of problems.
“I think if you really want to lessen the divorce rate, there’s better things the legislature can do, such as work against poverty, increase jobs,” Schilling said.
Representative Gassman said the issue is “near and dear” to his heart because his daughter and son-in-law recently divorced, putting his granddaughter at risk.
“There’s a 16-year-old girl in this whole mix now. Guess what? What are the possibilities of her being more promiscuous?” Gassman said. “What are the possibilities of all these other things surrounding her life that a 16-year-old girl, with hormones raging, can get herself into?”
AUDIO of subcommittee meeting (mp3 runs 40 minutes)
Gassman and another Republican lawmaker gave the bill initial approval today. The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee says there needs to be a discussion about the full range of problems in society, including divorce, and he may bring the bill up for debate in his committee. In 1970 Iowa became the second state in the nation to adopt a “no-fault” divorce law.
All 50 states now have “no-fault” laws allowing couples to divorce without citing evidence of wrong-doing from either spouse.