Oklahoma’s New Divorce Law Is Wrong, And Dangerous

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Oklahoma is a key state of interest for me for though I have several awesome progressive friends in the state and though my own family has roots there, yet it’s proudly one of the most conservative states in the union. Hobby Lobby and James Linkford help to highlight the point that it’s also one of the most dangerous to live if one is a woman* (or LGBTQ), for they make it clear that a woman’s body does not belong to the woman but to her employers and others. This reputation is not helped by the state’s newly-signed Divorce Class Bill.  (TW for domestic abuse apologism.)


At first blush, the bill seems like a good idea. Parents of minors who are considering a divorce must go to a class which is supposed to give them information and skills to help their children cope with the divorce. Since children are often in the middle of these conflicts (sometimes willingly by manipulative partners), it’s good to make adults aware of what they are doing in the midst of potentially very volatile times and to make children know and understand that they are valued and that the struggle is not about them.

The problem produces itself when we see this “reconciliation” language. Reconciliation in the face of divorce is the idea that partners should try to mend their differences and get back together. For couples who identify their problems as “irreconcilable”, this is a weird prospect. Considering that a sponsor of the bill says that he would like a result of the bill to be to lower the divorce rate and prevent divorces,  it’s all the more obvious that one of the main reasons for the existence of this class is reconciliation. That the class is to be completed before divorce is finalized rather than after says that the class isn’t focused on the children but on the prospect of fixing the marriage – to the benefit of husbands who want to retain power over wives.

Oklahoma is the buckle of the Bible Belt, and many conservative churches teach that domestic abuse survivors should return to their spouses. This neglects and erases the real harm that abusive relationships cause and are. It also lowers the already small chance that survivors will leave their partners with or without their kids. The abused often are made to feel a responsibility towards their abusers – even to saving and changing the abuser. In some contexts, women are made to feel that it is their fault if the husband cheats or turns to violence. This is the rooting of much reconciliation language – the idea that the spouse (usually wife) saves the partner (usually, husband) through repentant submission and continual reconciliation. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard similar language

Reconciliation – and particularly a class teaching the necessities of reconciliation – is yet another hindrance for abuse survivors (not all of whom are women, though the majority are, particularly in violent-prone situations) to leave their abusive situations. The chances for abused partners to leave lessens with lack of money and education, lack of resources, friends and family to rely on, with children. To have both church and state say that spouses should prioritize staying together is yet another heavy obstacle for the abused and only reinforces opposition from family members who think they are doing right by counseling reunionThis is especially true in a state with such highly violent and deadly domestic violence confrontations. Whose side are the state and the church on, anyway?

Oh, and both sponsors of the divorce class bill are men. So there’s that. As one of them, State Senator Robert Standridge, put it:

If you are going through the whole divorce process and have kids, if we can do anything to keep people together, we shouldMarriage is a lifelong contract with the state and with your children. [emphasis mine]

Where do we even start with this statement? “If we can do anything to keep people together, we should”? So the participants in the marriage do not get to decide their own fate? What if that marriage is harmful to the children? What if it’s directly harmful for the parents to be near each other due to patterns of abuse and/or neglect or just bad relationship patterns? That harms children as well, and worse than divorce. They internalize that as well. And sometimes these things cannot and will not be fixed. Secondly, marriage is not a lifelong contract, despite wording in vows. It’s a commitment, but sometimes commitments do not work out. And since when did Republicans care about the state? And since when was the vow of marriage particular to the state? The state is involved as a witness and in a few other capacities, but the vow is to each other – not future children, not governments, not busybodies. Other people may be impacted, but not necessarily.

The other sponsor of the bill is Jason Nelson.

Nelson said broken homes have an impact on social services, the prison population and the school system.

First off, stop calling them “broken homes.” They are two distinct homes – not one broken one. Second, if you want to know what actually has a negative impact on social services, the prison population, and the school system, look at poverty. Look at the fact that you’ve just passed a bill that makes it impossible for cities to raise the minimum wage in your own state. Look at violence toward women in your state*, which ironically (or not) is compounded by this bill. Look at systemic racism. Look at the racist and classist War on Drugs. If you want to have a positive effect on all of these, raise the minimum wage to a livable wage. Protect, not incarcerate, women.

Consigning struggling families to “work it out” isn’t going to fix that. Taking care of root issues, however, will.

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*The high ranking is due to a variety of factors, from absolutely restrictive abortion requirements  (including a 24 hour wait period and a class to take before the procedure), to high incarceration rates of poor women, to a lowered life expectancy of women in the state. Oklahoma is ranked third in murder rate of women by domestic partners. In fact, Oklahoma rates as the highest per capita in female incarceration in the US easily, and possibly the world. That would be higher than, say, Burma or North Korea, but at least twice as high as other states in the US. Eighty percent of those locked-up are in for non-violent offenses, such as possession of or use of drugs.


jasdye

When he’s not riding both his city’s public transit system and evil mayor, Jasdye teaches at a community college and writes about the intersection of equality and faith - with an occasional focus on Chicago - at the Left Cheek blog and on the Left Cheek: the Blog Facebook page. Check out more from Jasdye in his archives as well!

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  • Pipercat

    Less government is good! … really!!!

  • strayaway

    Get with it. Even progressive Minnesota requires classes and attempts at reconciliation. Scandinavian countries, usually considered even more progressive, award most couple with joint custody and no child support or alimony after a six month wait. That means that all the money couples spend subsidizing all the players in the divorce industry here get almost nothing. The money spent on those sponges can instead be spent on the children’s educations, travel, or whatever. 50% of time with each parent is assumed. It’s an irony that there is less government involvement in marriage breakups in Scandinavia than here.

  • Sandy Greer

    Children can be, and are, used as pawns for parents to hurt each other – both financially and emotionally – during, and after, divorces. Adult ‘children’ argue over children – all too common, unfortunately.

    I think ‘children first’ classes a good thing. Even in the best of divorces – children are too easily hurt, and left feeling they have no control.

    I think every effort should be made to save Marriage, as an Institution. Classes in Communication may be helpful here. Too often, we relate to each other in Zero Sum Games – I win, you lose. Doesn’t make for a happy ‘union’. Doesn’t enhance any of our relationships – work, play, romance – posting online.

    We need to look for the Win-Win. Sadly, even some of us ‘adults’ don’t know how to do that.

    At the very least – classes in effective communication and learning how to increase our odds of achieving the Win-Win – would be extremely helpful in making our subsequent marriages ‘stick’.