Bill requiring mediation, waiting period for divorce advanced by House panel

Hank Hayes • May 2, 2007 at 11:39 AM

Legislation requiring a waiting period and mediation in Tennessee divorce proceedings won approval Wednesday from the House Children and Family Affairs Committee.

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. J. Thomas DuBois, R-Columbia, calls for a 60-day waiting period if married couples have no children and a 90-day period if they have kids under 18 years old. The waiting periods would apply to divorces sought on any grounds and begin after the divorce court papers are filed.

"The whole idea is you would save people, hopefully, court costs and grief and a long-drawn-out hard-fought proceeding, but you would require them to sit down at a table and work things out first," said state Rep. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, a bill co-sponsor presenting the legislation to the committee on DuBois' behalf.

"Are you trying to deter people from getting divorces with this?" state Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar, asked Kelsey.

"By going through mediation it makes the process more amicable," Kelsey responded. "People (involved in divorces) are moving toward mediation more and more each year. ... In mediation both parties have to actually agree to something."

Due to concerns from the Tennessee Bar Association (TBA), an amendment deleted a section of the bill that would have authorized a judge to deny a divorce involving children if either member of the couple failed to attend a mediation session.

TBA representative Steve Cobb noted a waiting period and mediation could save couples thousands of dollars in attorneys' fees.

"A lot of people can't afford that and shouldn't be wasting their money on that," Cobb told the committee.

State Rep. Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory, suggested the bill might hinder people who really need to be divorced.

"You may also protect somebody who for whatever reason is rushing to the wrong decision," Turner said. "You may make them think it out clearer. ... I think for the first time we have actually more people in the state getting divorced than married."

The bill will now move on to a vote on the House floor while its Senate companion bill will be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee next Tuesday.

For more about the bill go to www.legislature.state.tn.us and click on "Legislation." The bill's number is HB 1981.

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