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When couples come to divorce lawyers, they usually have been through therapy already, said family law attorney Pamela J. Waggoner, chair of the family law section of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

“I don’t understand the necessity,” she said, of putting a reconciliation component into divorce-related or parenting programs. Since 1995, she said, she has seen only “two or three” couples halt the divorce process to think about reconciling.

Not backing down

And yet, divorce reformers can’t give up:

c Children of divorce are often stunted economically and can’t seem to work their way into higher-income levels, a 2010 study from Pew Charitable Trusts says.

c If the U.S. “enjoyed the same level of family stability today as it did in 1960,” there would be 750,000 fewer children repeating grades, 1.2 million fewer school suspensions, about 500,000 fewer acts of teenage delinquency, about 600,000 few children receiving therapy and 70,000 fewer suicides every year, writes W. Bradford Wilcox in a 2009 paper, referring to research by Pennsylvania State University professors Paul Amato and Alan Booth.

c Children of divorce have shorter life spans - by an average of five years - compared to children whose parents didn’t divorce, according to a new study by Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin.

That longevity data is “the most devastating analysis that we’ve seen … of the impact of divorce on children. They don’t ‘get over it,’ ” said Mr. Gersten, who was a Department of Health and Human Services official in the George W. Bush administration.

Mr. Gersten’s coalition already has seen a victory: New Mexico state Sen. Mark Boitano introduced the Parental Divorce Reduction Act in this year’s session, and Mr. Gersten expects lawmakers in a dozen states to do so in 2012.

The act requires parents of minor children who are contemplating divorce to first attend six hours of “divorce-reduction” education. They would then enter an eight-month “reflection” period with access to marriage-strengthening materials and workshops. After that, they can go ahead with a divorce, “and we let the lawyers take over,” said Mr. Gersten, who added that couples in certain circumstances, such as domestic violence, would be exempted from the program.