WICHITA, Kan. — Kansas residents seeking divorces would have to prove their spouse's culpability for the crumbling marriage under legislation that would abolish no-fault divorce in the state.
Rep. Keith Esau, an Olathe Republican, introduced the measure removing "incompatibility'" as a valid reason for divorce. He said he offered it on behalf of a fellow lawmaker but supports its content.
"No-fault divorce gives people an easy out instead of working at it," Esau told The Wichita Eagle on Friday. "It would be my hope that they could work out their incompatibilities and learn to work together on things."
Esau, who serves on the Judiciary Committee, did not write the measure but said it's designed to clean up Kansas law by requiring specific reasons for divorce. He said he received constant phone calls from Kansas residents after introducing the bill Thursday.
"I'm really surprised that's getting as much controversy — or I should say as much notice — as (it is)," he said.
It also drew immediate opposition from another Judiciary Committee member, Democrat Jim Ward of Wichita, who has handled divorce cases in his legal practice.
"We really should let people decide when to end relationships," he said.
The bill would require Kansans seeking a divorce to prove their spouses' fault, a requirement that was common throughout the United States 60 years ago.
"That's really not a healthy way to deal with families that are changing," Ward said.
He said that making divorces less contentious helps couples with children maintain respectful relationships because they will need to continue to parent together.
Esau disputed the suggestion that bill was an example of government overreach. He said the state gives benefits to married couples, such as tax breaks, so couples should not enter into the institution of marriage lightly.
Moreover, he said, the state has a vested interest in supporting "strong families," and divorce undermines that.
"I think we've made divorce way too easy in this country," he said. "If we really want to respect marriage it needs to be a commitment that people work at and don't find arbitrary reasons to give up."
Morgan O'Hara Gering, a family law attorney in Wichita, questioned whether the bill would actually deter many people from seeking divorces. She said it would probably make divorces nastier by requiring people to prove their spouse's fault in court.
"It could create a lot more litigation and a lot more headaches just to fight about who's to blame," she said.