(MONEY Magazine) – Conservative legislators in a growing number of states want to make it tougher to file for divorce largely in order to help the couples' children. This year 12 states (Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia) have tried to pass legislation to modify no-fault divorce laws, which allow either spouse to get a divorce without the other's consent. At the same time, eight states have proposed bills that would prevent couples from divorcing until they've attended classes on the negative impact of divorce on children.

These lawmakers blame the nation's high divorce rate on no-fault divorce laws. Under no-fault, any spouse who declares that the marriage is irretrievably broken has grounds for divorce. "Currently, children and nonconsenting spouses lack a legal safety net," says Michigan representative Jessie Dalman, a Republican who's been married for 38 years and has three kids. "We cannot ignore a divorce system that makes it easy to destroy families."

However, the reform movement is facing strong opposition from lawyers' groups, sociologists and some skeptical politicians. They say that ending no-fault would dump countless cases on an already overloaded judicial system, since warring spouses would be required to take their complaints to court. No-fault defenders also argue that preventing couples from divorcing would increase the stress on children. Of the 12 state assemblies that introduced no-fault reform proposals this year, seven (Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, Tennessee and West Virginia) adjourned without taking action.

Some states have already instituted mandatory premarital and predivorce counseling and educational programs. In January 1997, Iowa will join Connecticut and Utah in requiring divorcing couples who have children to first take divorce-education classes. Delaware, Michigan and North Carolina are considering similar laws. Experts say these classes help to ease the conflict between parents, which ultimately reduces divorce's negative effects.

--Roberta Kirwan