Denmark’s New ‘Nanny State’ Divorce Law

July 22, 2019

Couples planning to split must wait three months and undergo counselling.

With one of the highest divorce rates in western Europe, Denmark would like breaking up to be a little harder to do – while making sure that when it does happen, the fallout is made less painful for everyone concerned.

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 by Politiken newspaper 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 criticising 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.

“This is about reducing the human and the financial costs of divorce,” said Gert Martin Hald, a psychologist and associate professor of public health at Copenhagen University who helped devise the counselling course, which is now compulsory for all couples with children under 18 before their divorce can be finalised.

“It’s good for both the individual couple but also for the municipality – prevention is always better than cure,” said Jette Haislund, head of the healthcare department at Ringkøbing-Skjern municipality in western Denmark, one of the first local authorities to experiment with couples therapy.

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.

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