Divorced people could remarry as soon as their divorce is finalized under a proposed bill in the state Legislature that would eliminate a six-month remarriage waiting period.
While supporters of the proposal say it’s not the state’s responsibility to say when someone is ready to marry, opponents say that they fear eliminating the waiting period could lead to more divorces because couples rush into new marriages.
Wisconsin is among six states that have a remarriage waiting period, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. It’s unclear why Wisconsin enacted the law in the first place.
“I just think that the government should get out of the way and you should make your own decisions,” said Rep. Cindy Duchow, R-Delafield, one of the bill’s sponsors. “If you’re single why can’t you go ahead and make the choice of getting married?”
Already, divorces take at least 120 days to be finalized, and Duchow said the process drags out much longer in many cases, essentially acting as a more than adequate waiting period.
Of the six states that have remarriage waiting periods, those in Wisconsin, Oklahoma and Nebraska are the longest at six months, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Waiting periods in Alabama, Kansas and Texas range from 30 to 60 days.
The state’s waiting period, which was enacted in 1911, was reduced from one year to six months in 1977.
The bill has bipartisan support, and Duchow said she’s optimistic it will pass, calling the proposal “common sense.” Sen. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville, is the Senate version’s lead co-sponsor.
But a six-month waiting period could help prevent additional divorces, allows for proper reflection after a potentially traumatic divorce and protects children from the confusion of having to adjust to a parent’s new marriage too quickly after a divorce, said Julaine Appling, president of the conservative Wisconsin Family Action. Eliminating the waiting period would cheapen marriage, making it more about adult desires instead of raising a family, she said.
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“The waiting period has good purpose,” Appling said. “It’s not punitive. It’s protective.”
She said she’d be less opposed to the proposal if it excluded parents with minor children. In 2014, more than 51 percent of divorces included marriages with children, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
Between 2010 and 2014, Wisconsin had an average divorce rate of nearly 2.9 for every 1,000 persons, lower than the national rate of 3.4 during the same span, according to the department.
Although it may not be the case in other states, Meghan McCann, a senior policy specialist with the NCSL, said Texas’ waiting period of 30 days matches the time period to contest or appeal a divorce decree. She said she couldn’t find much information to suggest why other states may have put such limits in place.
Eugene and Sandra Dempsey were married in April, but had Wisconsin not had a six-month waiting period, the divorcees would be approaching their one-year anniversary.
After a divorce process that spanned nearly a year, Eugene Dempsey said at an Assembly Committee on Family Law hearing Tuesday that he and Sandra were ready to marry as soon as his divorce was finalized in October 2016 but couldn’t.
“We feel like the state has an antiquated law which prevents adults from making their own decisions about their lives,” Sandra Dempsey said at the hearing. “I agree, divorce is a bad thing. ... I think it’s deeper than just waiting six months.”