At one recent class, some wore sweatpants and baseball caps, others pleated slacks and blouses. Some showed up with watery eyes. The classes focus on everything from how to leave the kids out of arguments to how much legal fees can cost.
Some participants played solitaire on their smartphones or whispered to a spouse or sibling.
In the first hour of the course, instructors go over legal paths for divorce, but also point out that couples can still choose to reconcile.
That's the key element the sponsor says should come sooner. Nielson proposes that before parents get custody rights or financial orders, they need first to have been granted the course certificate. The proposal would exempt people seeking protective orders.
When a participant was asked what her husband's name was, Gunnarson said, she replied: "Satan."
Soon after, some asked questions, including whether an ex-husband will still be required to pay child support if he doesn't have a job and what they should do if waves of grief over the breakup don't stop.
"If you're stuck and you want someone to talk to," Passey told the group, "just listen to your gut" and don't be afraid to seek counseling.
From Gunnarson's point of view, not every couple attending his classes needs a divorce. But most will get one, he said. What would parents say, Gunnarson asked, if their child was in the room, asking, "Why are you getting divorced?"
"We decided it's best for all of us," one participant offered.
"The only thing you need to know," Gunnarson told a hypothetical child, assuming the role of the parents in front of him, "is that your dad loves you and your mom loves you."
Alan Hawkins, a professor at Brigham Young University's School of Family Life, said Nielson's bill would help lower the numbers of people who divorce by installing a necessary yellow light. He said academic studies show that about 1 in 10 divorces "are a mistake for everyone involved."