Working to reduce Oklahoma’s high divorce rate, state Rep. Sally Kern has filed legislation to refine state law to encourage married couples with children to work through their problems.

“The destruction of the family is the root cause of many problems in our society,” said Kern, R-Oklahoma City. “If we can lower our divorce rate, our quality of life will improve and we will also reduce the need for many state services in this time of budget shortfall, freeing up money to go to core services such as schools and roads.”

House Bill 2279, by Kern, would amend Oklahoma’s divorce law. The bill would continue to allow divorce for abandonment, adultery, cruelty and similar causes, but would make it more difficult to obtain a divorce on the grounds of “incompatibility” if a couple has been married for 10 years or more, has children, and either the husband or wife objects to the divorce.

Under the bill, couples with children could obtain a divorce when both parties agree to it, just as they can under current law.

“No one wants to force a battered spouse to stay in a marriage, but that situation is seldom the cause of our high divorce rate,” Kern said. “Instead, we often see a husband or wife seek divorce because of so-called ‘incompatibility’ simply because they don’t want to try and address the issues that have caused their marital problems.” In four of five divorces, one spouse does not want the divorce, according to Mike McManus, president and co-founder of Marriage Savers, a group dedicated to driving down the nation’s divorce rate and preserving families.

Kern said by making it harder for one spouse to unilaterally obtain a divorce (outside of abuse, abandonment or similar circumstances), the state would create an incentive for reconciliation.

“This legislation would not prohibit divorce, but it would slow down the process when children are involved and provide an incentive for couples to sit down and talk about their problems,” Kern said. “That process may not always lead to reconciliation, but it is important that both spouses are involved in the decision. Our current law favors only the spouse seeking divorce.”

Kern noted there is broad support for slowing down the divorce process when children are involved. A TIME/CNN poll found that 61 percent of adults favor making divorce more difficult to obtain when a couple has young children.

“Regrettably, children are the innocent victims of divorce,” Kern said.

She also noted divorce also has financial consequences for state government.

A recent study, “The Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing” conservatively estimates divorce costs state government up to $430 million annually (largely through public assistance programs). Research also indicates children from broken homes are more likely to be incarcerated, live in poverty and are more susceptible to substance abuse and mental health disorders.

“We cannot address our current budget shortfall if we don’t also address the root cause of many state expenditures,” Kern said. “As my House colleague Mark McCullough has argued, if we could reduce divorce in Oklahoma we would also reduce our prison population and welfare rolls while benefiting families and children. That’s a goal worth pursing.”