Rep. Keith Esau, R-Olathe, said he got phone calls from Kansans all Thursday night after he introduced a bill that would remove “incompatibility” as a valid reason for divorce.
“I’m really surprised that’s getting as much controversy – or I should say as much notice – as” it is, Esau said Friday outside the House chamber. He said the bill is designed to clean up divorce law by requiring specific reasons for divorce.
The bill has yet to receive a number, but has already received plenty of attention.
Esau, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, introduced the bill, but he did not author it. He said he submitted it on behalf of a legislator who is not on the committee. Esau said he has not been given permission to disclose the name of that legislator.
But he said he supports the bill’s intent.
“No-fault divorce gives people an easy out instead of working at it,” Esau said. “It would be my hope that they could work out their incompatibilities and learn to work together on things.”
Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, another Judiciary member, opposes the bill.
“We really should let people decide when to end relationships,” he said.
Esau denied that bill was an example of government overreach. He said the state gives benefits to married couples, such as tax breaks, so couples should not enter into the institution of marriage lightly.
“Don’t think this is something that you can do temporarily and get out of,” Esau said.
The bill would require Kansans seeking a divorce to prove their spouses’ fault, a requirement which was common throughout the United States 60 years ago.
Ward, a practicing attorney who has handled divorce cases, said this would be foolish.
“That’s really not a healthy way to deal with families that are changing,” Ward said.
He said that making divorces less contentious helps couples with children maintain respectful relationships because they will need to continue to parent together.
Esau said that the state has a vested interest in supporting “strong families” and that divorce undermines that.
“I think we’ve made divorce way too easy in this country,” he said. “If we really want to respect marriage it needs to be a commitment that people work at and don’t find arbitrary reasons to give up.”
Morgan O’Hara Gering, a family law attorney in Wichita, questioned whether the bill would actually deter many people from seeking divorces.
“From my experience I can’t see that it’s going to stop people from getting divorced,” she said.
Instead O’Hara Gering thinks the bill would just make divorces nastier by requiring people to prove their spouse’s fault in court.
“It could create a lot more litigation and a lot more headaches just to fight about who’s to blame,” she said.