Bucking the trend, Denmark is turning back the clock on divorce by making it less-easy. That may be because Denmark currently has the highest divorce rate in Europe. In our country’s attempts to make divorce less acrimonious and easier on children, have we created new problems by making it so easy? The trend in international divorces may have made something rotten in the state of Denmark.
Dansk Divorce Laws
According to the Guardian, until recently Danes could divorce by filling out a simple online form. But under a package of legislation that came into force in April, couples determined to split must wait three months and undergo counselling before their marriage can be dissolved.
Meanwhile, a survey found that 68 of Denmark’s 98 local authorities were offering relationship therapy to couples in difficulty, on the grounds that keeping families together saves municipalities money on housing and services.
The initiatives, which in some countries might be seen as unwelcome state intrusion in citizens’ private lives, have been broadly welcomed by both the public and politicians in Denmark, with only the small Liberal Alliance party criticizing them as over-reach.
The country has long championed family rights, offering year-long parental leave and universal public daycare, but it recorded 15,000 divorces in 2018, equivalent to nearly half the marriages that year.
The government’s three-month waiting period and “cooperation after divorce” course, taken online or via an app, aims to smooth the process for divorcing couples and children by helping them improve communication and avoid pitfalls.
Parents can tailor their course individually from 17 half-hour modules offering concrete solutions to potential areas of conflict during the divorce process, including how to handle birthday parties or how to talk to an ex-partner when angry.
I have written about divorce planning and recent trends in divorce around the world before, such as the new Norse Divorce Course.
Although Florida has a lower divorce rate than Denmark, it is not only because a divorce course is required in Florida. Divorce rates have been falling in the United States, but that is not good news, as many people are having children outside of marriage, and the statistics for relationship breakups is staggering.
Like Denmark, in Florida, the legislature has found that a large number of children experience the separation or divorce of their parents. Parental conflict related to divorce is a major concern because children suffer potential short-term and long-term detrimental economic, emotional, and educational effects during this difficult period of family transition.
This harm can be particularly true when parents engage in lengthy legal conflict. So, like Denmark, Florida requires a divorce course called the “Parent Education and Family Stabilization Course” and may include several topics relating to custody, care, time-sharing, and support of children.
Back in København
In a trial with 2,500 volunteers before launching, the Denmark course has been praised by specialists and those who have completed it. “The data is clear: the program works,” he said. “In 13 out of 15 cases it had a moderate to strong positive effect on mental and physical health and led to fewer absences from work. After 12 months, couples were communicating with each other as if they had not divorced.”
Hjalmar, a marketing executive in his 40’s who preferred not to give his full name, said he took the course in its trial phase nearly four years ago and found it very useful. “Obviously it’s not going to repair a broken marriage,” he said. “But it helps you sort out some pretty important stuff when you may not be thinking very clearly.”
Relationship experts said the course was a step in the right direction but would not work for all couples. “It’s a fine tool and you can’t argue with its results,” said Trine Schaldemose, the deputy head of Mødrehjælpen, a family help association. “But it won’t help couples who are in very high conflict or violent relationships, or with a very low level of resources. They are going to need more than an online course. They will need personal, individual counselling. This won’t be a quick fix for them.”
Many consider Denmark’s new divorce rules were a big improvement. Before, the system was focused more on parents’ rights than children’s. And divorce involved a lot of different institutions, none of which were aligned. That’s changed.
Some experts are unsure about the boom in local authority-provided counselling. Five years ago only 20% offered any couples therapy at all. Any counselling was a positive development but the quality of programs varied and some couples may not be as open when counselling was provided by a local authority rather than independently.
Municipalities insist their programs work. In Ringkøbing-Skjern, which began offering free relationship therapy in 2011, the council says the divorce rate has fallen by 17% and last year 92 local couples sought counselling – the highest annual number so far.
All couples with children under 18 are entitled to five free sessions. Politicians, too, have been broadly welcoming. “Municipalities deserve praise for taking the initiative to help more families prosper and stay together”.
Divorce rates are 25% to 50% across western countries and it costs a huge amount of money and causes a lot of individual pain. Individual treatment would be too expensive. If we really want to take this seriously, we need to work together to develop something scaleable.
The Guardian article is here.