Lawmakers: Should couples have to wait longer to get a divorce?

SEATTLE -- It may be Valentine's Day, but some state lawmakers have divorce on their minds.

On Friday, legislators in Olympia will take up a bill that would extend the waiting period for married couples who want to get divorced.

Some states don't require a wait-time for getting a divorce, such as Minnesota and North Dakota. Arkansas, on the other hand, is on the higher end at 18 months.

Washington falls somewhere in the middle, but that could change if a new bill gains steam.

It's been a little more than three months since Washington made it legal for same sex couples to get married. But if one lawmaker has his way, it will soon take much longer for anyone to get a divorce.

"We want to give people more time," said Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver. "I think the state has a vested interest in trying to keep marriages together and I think this bill would help achieve that."

Benton wants to extend the divorce waiting period from 90 days to a full year. The bill, called the Family Second Chances Act, argues that divorce causes poverty and lower achievement. Benton believes reducing divorce rates would benefit families.

Women's rights advocates see it differently.

"Arkansas has an 18-month waiting period and its divorce rate is the second or third highest (in the nation), said Lisa Stone, the executive director of Legal Voice.

Stone said domestic violence victims could be especially at risk.

"So what this does is put the person in an abusive relationship who wants to get out, wants to move on, wants to get her children to safety at more risk and more delay," she said.

The bill's sponsors say domestic violence victims would be protected, but opponents argue that it's not enough.

"This is the legislature saying, we know it would be better for every couple to stay together longer and it's just an absurd premise, frankly," Stone said.

Benton said it's a matter of commitment.

"When you take vows you say marriage is forever," he said. "You ought to maybe think about those before you make those commitments."

Under the new proposal, the one year waiting period would be waived if the abuser had a felony conviction or protection order.

The bill could face an uphill battle because there's no companion bill in the House. A hearing on the matter will start Friday morning at 8 a.m.