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Oklahoma bill would end incompatibility as grounds for divorce

Sen. Dusty Deevers, R-Elgin, has filed a bill that would end incompatibility as grounds for divorce.
Carmen Forman
Oklahoma Voice
Sen. Dusty Deevers, R-Elgin, has filed a bill that would end incompatibility as grounds for divorce.

A bill that would abolish no-fault divorce is drawing the ire of some attorneys and domestic violence victims’ advocates.

Sen. Dusty Deevers, R-Elgin, filed Senate Bill 1958 that would no longer allow Oklahomans to file for divorce on the grounds of incompatibility, also known as no-fault divorce.

Critics say it would make it more difficult to end a marriage and make the actual reason for a divorce open to public scrutiny.

Nikki Edwards, who practices family law and is a partner and shareholder in Phillips Murrah, said if Deevers’ bill became law, it would clog up courts and hurt domestic violence victims.

“It is a great departure from the well-known statutory regime,” she said, adding that lawmakers previously unsuccessfully tried to eliminate no-fault divorce.

If no-fault divorce is eliminated, those seeking to end a marriage will have to prove other elements by clear and convincing evidence, she said. That evidence can be subjective, taking more of the court’s time and resources, she said.

“On a practical note, each judge would be singularly charged with weighing if adultery can be proven, or insanity can be proven, or if extreme cruelty can be proven,” Edwards said. “Those are very subjective calls on a judge’s part that would have our courts backed up for years.”

People could be waiting years to get a divorce finalized, she said.

During her 25-year career, 99% of divorce cases have been filed on the grounds of incompatibility, which is as simple as saying “we don’t get along,” Edwards said.

If someone filed for divorce based on the grounds of habitual drunkenness of the spouse, it has implications for children and employers, she said.

“All this would be open for viewing by the public at large,” Edwards said.

In addition, people have different opinions about what constitutes habitual drunkenness, she said.

Women and men who find themselves in a domestic abuse situation, whether it be verbal, physical or financial, would suffer the most, Edwards said.

“They would have to prove their situation amounts to extreme cruelty,” she said.

Due to fear or lack of resources, domestic abuse victims often do not report it, Edwards said.

Deevers, a pastor and small business owner, recently won a special election to represent Senate District 32, in southwestern Oklahoma.

Deevers did not respond to messages seeking comment.

But in a Dec. 2 American Reformer piece, he called no-fault divorce laws “an abolition of marital obligation.”

Brandon Pasley is an expert on domestic violence and serves as vice president of operations and compliance for YWCA Oklahoma City.

He said he has not read the bill, but said a lot of times lawmakers write bills with healthy families in mind and miss patterns of unhealthy families.

Limiting the ability of a domestic violence victim to escape a legal marriage to a perpetrator has a pretty broad impact and could involve life or death, he said.

Edwards said some believe once people marry, there is no right to divorce.

“But over decades of law and the progression of our civilization, including what other states are doing, incompatibility is very common,” she said.

A person should be able to escape a situation that is untenable to them, she said.

Oklahoma’s divorce rate in 2022 was 3.7%, down from 5.2% in 2010, according to the Oklahoma Department of Health.

Oklahoma Voice is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oklahoma Voice maintains editorial independence.

Barbara Hoberock is a senior reporter with Oklahoma Voice. She began her career in journalism in 1989 after graduating from Oklahoma State University. She began with the Claremore Daily Progress and then started working in 1990 for the Tulsa World. She has covered the statehouse since 1994 and served as Tulsa World Capitol Bureau chief. She covers statewide elected officials, the legislature, agencies, state issues, appellate courts and elections.
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