SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A few nights a week in Utah, rooms in courthouses typically reserved for deliberating juries fill up with parents looking to divorce. And among the first lessons they are taught is a simple, if not emotional, one: Keep the kids out of it.
"Cocoon your child," instructor Neal Gunnarson tells the group of parents.
Utah was the first in the nation in 1994 to require that couples complete what's now a two-hour, $55 seminar before courts will finalize a split. Now, a lawmaker is proposing to require that couples take at least part of the course earlier, hoping that it can reduce a divorce rate among those couples with children.
"If you've gotten so far down the road that you feel like you're pretty much done, you're not going to rethink something that you've spent that long moving toward," said the bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Jim Nielson.
The measure is likely to pass over objections from those who say it will only worsen an already grueling and painful process. "They're going through a terrible time," said Dianne Passey, a divorce class teacher in Salt Lake City.
The bill puts Utah back in the spotlight for legislation that was unique 20 years ago but commonplace today.
According to a 2008 study by the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, 48 states offer such classes in some form. Twenty-seven states require in statute that parents take the class, and others leave the decision up to counties, other districts or individual judges.
Some mandate a video session while others include roleplaying and other information about how the split could affect children and teens.
Utah lawmakers aren't alone in discussing measures that would, in effect, make it more difficult to divorce in recent years.
A pending proposal in the Oklahoma Legislature would prolong the divorce waiting period to six months. A 2013 North Carolina bill also proposed extending the waiting period to two years. And Colorado legislators in 2012 considered a measure to have couples wait a year.