People filing for divorce in the state must now wait 90 days before it can become final.
But under a bill heard Friday in the state Senate Law and Justice Committee, that waiting period would be extended to one year.
Senate Bill 5614 supporters say it would give couples more time to reconcile and could result in fewer divorces. In addition, they assert, because divorce is correlated with higher rates of poverty and juvenile delinquency, the measure would save the state money in social services.
“Increasing the waiting time for dissolution will be beneficial to families of our state and certainly will be beneficial to taxpayers of our state,” said Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, the bill’s sponsor.
Opponents say the measure is unduly paternalistic.
“We’re talking about adults here,” said Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle. “They have the opportunity for counseling without us having to force it on them.”
The measure, which supporters call the Family Second Chance Act, would allow for speedier divorces when one partner has been convicted of a violent or sexual felony against the other or against a child, as well as in cases in which a court has issued a final civil protection order against one of the parties stemming from threats of violence.
Advocates for victims of domestic violence say those exceptions are too narrow. Sen. Mike Padden, a Spokane Valley Republican who chairs the committee, said he was open to amending the measure to allow for more domestic violence victims to have their divorces expedited.
Waiting periods for divorces to become final vary by state. While 28 states have no waiting periods, two have mandatory waits of one year and one state, Arkansas, requires that couples wait 18 months before completing a divorce.
Bill supporters note that many states with high divorce rates have no waiting period.
Of the 44 states with 2010 divorce rates listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — the most recent year for which it provides statistics — 11 of the top 12 had mandatory waiting periods of no more than one month.
However, opponents counter, Arkansas had the second-highest 2010 divorce rate, of 5.7 divorces per 1,000 people.
Washington’s 2010 divorce rate was 4.2 per 1,000 people, above the national average.
The bill also would change a court-issued handbook for divorcing couples to include the benefits of reconciliation and make it required reading for both parties.
Padden said he wasn’t sure whether the measure had the votes to make it out of committee. Policy-related bills face a Friday deadline to be passed out of their committees.