Bills pending in Texas House would impact no-fault divorce

One would eliminate the no-fault option completely; the other would extend the waiting period for some couples seeking no-fault divorce.

State Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, has introduced two bills in the Texas House of Representatives that take aim at the widely accepted concept of no-fault divorce. Divorce without having to prove marital fault has been allowed in Texas since the 1970s.

KXAN quotes Rep. Krause as saying he thinks it should be harder to get divorced and that spouses should have to take more time to try to work their differences out. He thinks the changes would "strengthen the family." He explained that he thinks no-fault divorce does not give a spouse who opposes a divorce any grounds to fight it.

Current law

Most Texas divorces are "no fault" in which a spouse must not prove that the other partner is guilty of a serious breach of behavior in the marriage. The no-fault statute is based on "insupportability," meaning the marriage is no longer supportable because of "discord or conflict of personalities that [destroy] the legitimate ends of the marital relationship and [prevent] any reasonable expectation of reconciliation."

Texas also still allows a spouse to base a divorce petition on fault, which requires proving cruelty, adultery, abandonment, a felony conviction, a mental-health institutionalization or three years of separate living. Proving fault can increase the length of a divorce trial, generate more legal fees and require public exposure of sensitive personal information in court.

While the majority of divorces are no-fault in Texas, sometimes a person may base it on fault because fault could have a positive impact on property division.

The proposals

H.B. 93 would completely repeal the Texas statute that legalizes no-fault divorce. As of this writing on April 7, 2017, the bill is pending in the House Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee.

The second bill, H.B. 65, was voted unanimously out of the same committee, which issued a favorable report. If the first bill did not pass and eliminate no-fault divorce, the second would instead lengthen the required waiting period for no-fault divorce from 60 to 180 days for certain couples, namely any with a child who lives at home and is a minor, 18 and in high school, or disabled.

Both bills have gained several Republican cosponsors.

Critics of the bills

Opponents of these bills feel that the changes to the law could make it more difficult for people who are in bad, even violent, marriages to get out of them. Others think that some married couples may want or need to split up, but would not be able to show one of the conditions required for fault or afford the probable increase in legal fees. There is also concern that children could be exposed to damaging information about their parents in a court battle over fault.

Legal professionals and advocates will watch these bills closely throughout the legislative session to see if they progress. In the meantime, anyone who faces a potential divorce should speak with an experienced family lawyer who can answer questions about the state of the law and how it would impact the person's situation.

Attorney Michael Tracton of the Law Office of Michael D. Tracton, P.C., in Sugar Land represents divorce clients in the Houston metropolitan area, including Fort Bend County and Harris County.