CO legislator sponsors bill that mandates marital counseling before divorce

Rep. David Schultheis is brand new to the Colorado Legislature, but that doesn’t deter him from sponsoring a controversial bill that is also supported by Gov. Owens. In conjunction with the governor’s office, on Feb. 13, Schultheis, a Republican from District 22 in El Paso County, introduced to the Legislature a bill that would require judges to order a one-year waiting period and mandatory marital counseling during that period for parents seeking a divorce in Colorado. The bill applies to couples who have dependent children and also includes couples who are still expecting their first child. It does not specify how many counseling sessions couples must attend.

The only possible waiver of the one-year mandatory-counseling requirement is in domestic violence situations. David Crater, administrative and legislative aide to Schultheis, said that spousal victims of domestic violence must prove “serious physical or psychological abuse” before an exemption is made. All other Colorado couples with children, according to this bill, would have to seek marital counseling for one year at their own expense, regardless of income, prior to being granted a divorce by the state.

Schultheis believes that the majority of society’s problems are caused by the breakdown of families. And, because marriage is a legal institution that is recognized, endorsed and supported by the state, the government has the responsibility to protect it.

“We owe it to the children to defend and protect them,” said Crater. “We cannot make it easy for people to get out of their marriages.”

Schultheis said he believes that opposition will come from pro-choice organizations that are individual-oriented, such as Planned Parenthood, and people who don’t believe in restricting people’s ability to dissolve their marriage. Crater says that most faith-based organizations are behind the bill 100 percent. Rocky Mountain Family Council and Atlanta-based Wait Training have been instrumental in helping draft this legislation.

If this bill passes, couples seeking divorce will reappear in front of a judge at the end of their mandatory counseling period. Counselors must submit a report to the judge citing the progress or lack thereof made by the couple. If it is determined that a good-faith effort was made on the part of the couple without resolution, the judge has the authority to then grant the divorce.

The increasing cost of legal protection

Schultheis is also working with the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department on a bill that increases fees for civil-based actions such as restraining orders, subpoenas, civil and criminal summons, garnishments, etc. Sgt. Jim Groth, legislative liaison in the public information unit of the sheriff’s department, reported that the civil section of the department operated in the red last year because fees are not in line with rising operating costs.

“It cost $400,000 to run the civil section last year, and fees generated only $200,000,” said Groth. “We should be self-supporting.”

Groth also said that most Colorado county sheriffs’ departments are faced with losses similar to those of El Paso County. The bill goes to the criminal justice committee on Monday, and Schultheis thinks it will comfortably pass. If it does, fees in the $10 to $30 range will double, and fees of $50 will increase to $70. The people who pay the fees are those who request civil action, such as a restraining order, from the sheriff’s department.