Jerry Kopel

You and I don't have life insurance. We have death insurance. And the original HB 1199 by Rep. Mark Paschall isn't really covenant marriage. It's fault divorce.

The Paschall bill allows parties to a marriage to voluntarily agree (under a document signed and filed with the county clerk and recorder) that divorce cannot be granted except under certain conditions set out in the statute: Adultery, Conviction of a Felony and Imprisonment, Abandonment or Separation for One Year, Physical or Sexual Abuse of the Spouse or a Child, Habitual Abuser of Drugs or Alcohol, or Mutual Agreement to Dissolve the Marriage.

The Paschall bill would not eliminate the present "no fault" divorce...just use fault divorce as an alternative. No fault divorce is based on a marriage being irretrievably broken. It can be challenged by one party to the marriage under CRS 14-10-110, but rarely is. A challenge requires the court "to consider all relevant factors, including the circumstances that gave rise to the filing and the prospect of reconciliation".

No fault divorce has been the law in Colorado since January of 1972. It is part of the Uniform Dissolution of Marriage Act, and the bill, HB 1299, was sponsored by Rep. Betty Ann Dittermore (R) and Sen. Joe Shoemaker (R). Under "no fault", disposition of property and award of maintenance is without regard to "fault". Not so under the original Paschall bill.

Lawyers as old as I am know what it was like under fault divorce. We tried to use "mental cruelty" as the grounds to avoid having the client commit perjury on the witness stand. The Paschall bill includes physical, but not mental cruelty as a ground for divorce.

Under a contested fault divorce, the court records would often be filled with salacious material that would make even Bill and Monica blush.

The time that was spent by the court on contested fault divorces was huge. As Justice Mary Mullarkey told the legislature on Jan. 15th, divorce makes up a large part of the civil proceedings in metropolitan district courts: Large in numbers, but not presently in length of hearings. Long hearings would return under the Paschall bill. Besides omitting mental cruelty as a ground for a new fault divorce, the Paschall bill also omits impotency and insanity.

Only the covenant-marriage poor, stuck with an insane or impotent spouse, need be concerned with HB 1199. If Colorado passes the law, there are still 47 states where the rich who sign a covenant marriage affidavit may travel to, and seek a divorce. Chief among the 47 is Nevada, a state that made a great deal of money from divorce before 1972.

In Nevada, you can get a divorce for incompatibility. You have to be a resident for at least six weeks before commencement of the action. Service can be by publication for four weeks and delivery by mail to the defendant. A Nevada resident would not be bound by a Colorado Covenant Marriage statute, and Colorado would have to give full faith and credit to the Nevada divorce.

Nevada made itself a prosperous state by doing everything the social conservatives found reprehensible. It is the only state with legalized prostitution. It was the original state for gambling casinos and at one time (before 1972) the only state for quickie divorces.

The divorce business has declined since other states adopted no fault divorces. Other states have also pushed their way into the casino business. (In 1990, the major funding in opposition to the Colorado constitutional amendment for casino gambling came from Nevada.)

If I were a Nevada businessman, I'd do my best to see that every state but Nevada adopted a Covenant Marriage Law. What better way to bring in more money than by becoming the ONLY no-fault divorce state?

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Rule No. 9 for Legislators. If you are in the minority party and the committee chairman schedules your bill early in the new assembly, thank him or her, but say you won't be ready until the third week.

It is not by accident that nine of the first thirteen bills to be killed in committee in the 1999 legislative session were sponsored by Democrats. This is a decades old tradition. No one has to give orders. It just happens naturally.

When creatures evolved from the muck of evolution, they took different paths, but some traits have remained consistent. Wolves and legislators both recognize alpha leaders (in the House, it is called the Speaker). Wolves marry for life (as do some legislators) live in packs (like Democrats and Republicans), and care for their young (new members in the legislature are placed in the hands of the more experienced).

Wolves capture small game such as rabbits, wounded but still alive, and carry the creatures to their dens. There they lay the animal down in order to teach the cubs how to kill. Committee chairmen schedule Democratic bills early in committees, and the veterans show the recent arrivals how to kill a bill. Of course, some of those bills would have died anyway, but it is sound advice for Democrats to avoid having their bills heard early.

Jerry Kopel writes a column for the Statesman based on 22 years past experience as a state legislator.

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