How States Can Strengthen Marriage: Marriage Strengthening and Preservation Legislation
Diane Sollee, 1999/CMFCE:
1) Establish state and community Marriage and Family Coalitions/Initiatives and/or
Commissions to coordinate marriage and family strengthening efforts.
2) Encourage and support promote private, non-profit, secular, and faith-based 4) Develop media and public information campaigns that make clear the research-based information about the benefits of marriage to men, women, children and communities and information about the skills and behaviors which help couples build and maintain satisfying, enduring marriages and families.
efforts such as Community Marriage Policies and programss in high schools,
youth groups, county courts, extension offices, county mental health agencies, hospitals,
military installations, prisons, adult eudcation, child-birth centers, etc.)
3) Make marriage education skills programs widely accessible in county and community
agencies for couples of all races and classes and at all stages of relationship on an affordable
subsidized, voucher and/or sliding-scale fee system. A variety of research-based, highly
cost-effective curricula exist for applications in high schools, for couples making the transition
to parenthood, and for couples at any stage of relationship from formation to those facing divorce.
Make these available in the community. One of the best ways to make the information available is
through an affordable Community Marriage Resource Center Web site.
- Marriage contributes to the increased physical, emotional and economic health and well being of men, women,
children and communities.
- Americans of all races and classes report that having a successful marriage and a happy family
is their number one goal. This sentiment, which has held steady throughout our history, has only increased in
the last decade. Eighty-five to 90% of Americans marry and 75% who divorce remarry. This despite the high failure rate!
- In spite of the benefits of marriage and the high value placed on marriage, marriage is in decline.
Family breakdown is draining the public purse and is a major public health issue.
- America has experienced a 50% divorce rate for forty years. Forty to fifty percent of today’s first marriages
are predicted to end in divorce. Experts predict that the rate of marital breakdown is likely to increase because children
of divorce or of never-married parents are themselves more likely to divorce and because remarriages fail
at a higher rate (65%) than first marriages. If cohabiting stepfamilies are counted, stepfamilies are already our predominant
family form. Preventing re-divorce is a major challenge.
- The rates of cohabitation and out-of-wedlock childbearing have dramatically increased in the past three decades.
One-third of all children and 68% of African American children are born out of wedlock. Some predict
that marriage is an institution on its way to extinction.
- However, new cutting-edge research offers cost-effective solutions for reversing these trends. Research
finds that marriage is in decline primarily due to a lack of information. Americans value marriage. If they knew
what to expect in marriage and HOW to make their marriages successful it is more likely they would stay married.
If they don’t know HOW to do it, having a successful, lasting marriage is not a viable choice.
- Marriages that succeed are differentiated from those that fail by certain understandings, behaviors and skills.
Research finds that these crucial skills can be taught to all races and classes through educational programs that can reduce
divorce by 50%. The courses are cost-effective. Thy are not therapy or counseling and are best provided by
community educators: para professionals, teachers, lay leaders, mentor couples, and clergy. The material is presented in classroom settings, to large groups of couples - which is also cost effective. Training of marriage and relationship
ecuators is done in one to three days and many programs are now available in Teach-Out-of-the-Box formats - the
training is on a DVD.
- Citizens are operating with gross misinformation about marriage. For decades experts have been telling
people that marriage makes little difference, or worse that it is good for men but not for women; that women
do better single than married; and that children do just as well in single-parent, cohabiting or remarried families
as with their own two married parents as long as they have at least one "mentor" relationship
with a parent, grandparent,"big brother, etc. None of this is true. When people understand the
benefits of marriage they can make informed decisions about divorce and cohabitation. It turns out that cohabitation
does not provide the same benefits for men, women or children as marriage - lacks the protective factors for
the accumulation and conservation of wealth and the protective factors for health, safety, and success.
- New research also provides maps of what to expect in a good marriage and what to expect following divorce:
All couples – happy couples that go the distance and those that divorce - disagree the same amount.
They also disagree about the same basic issues: money, sex, children, in-laws, leisure time, and housework.
It is not the disagreements that matter; it is how they are handled that predicts success or failure. The
number one predictor of divorce is the habitual avoidance of conflict. The first four years – the so-called
honeymoon years - have the highest divorce rate. For 75% of couples, marital satisfaction drops with the birth of the first child. That's normal and to be expected. Marital satisfaction is at its lowest when there are children between
the ages of 11 and 16 in the home – also normal, and to be expected. Second and third marriages have a higher failure
rate than first marriages. The most common cause of bankruptcy filing is marital breakdown. Get-rich-books
recommend two strategies: get an education and get and stay married. And so on. Couples need accurate maps
of the terrain, need to know what's normal, what to expect, and when to hunker down and put their marriage skills into play.
- Marriage skill-building programs developed at the state, county, university, and grass-roots community
level are available for widespread implementation. Institutions with access to large numbers of citizens of all races and
classes and with existing infrastructures classrooms, instructors, and an accepted educational role in the
community are the obvious best settings for delivery of the services. Schools, churches, military bases, child birth centers,
extension offices, and county health, mental health and court systems are natural choices.
- Florida passed the Marriage Preservation and Preparation Act of 1998 which 1) requires
marriage education skills classes for all high school students and 2) offers a marriage
license fee reduction to couples who take a 4 hour minimum marriage education course.
High school marriage education courses are also offered across the country on a hit-or -miss
basis. The courses equip the next marring generations with the understanding that there are reasons to
build and maintain marriages and ways to do it - ways to become Masters of Marriage.
- Chesterfield County, Virginia developed a program which offers marriage education
classes to county residents. One county mental health agency staff person was trained
and brought back to the county the manuals and skills packages. The 5 year old program
is subsidized by state, local and federal funding, is offered to couples at any stage
of relationship from engaged to troubled, and is always full.
- Cobb County, Georgia developed a model for offering marriage education courses to
county residents in the county family court offices. The course is free to participants
and is funded by juror fee contributions and volunteers.
- Several Navy, Army and Air Force installations require marriage education classes.
The courses reduce divorce and violence and increase reenlistment. (PREP program.)
- The Becoming Parent’s Program offers marriage education skills in childbirth preparation
classes for both married and unmarried couples in the transition to parenthood. Class
are offered in public and private hospitals, churches, & community centers. (Pam Jordan,
Howard Markman, Susan Blumberg & Scott Stanley curriculum.)
- Community Marriage Policies in more than 100 cities train well-married couples to mentor
newlyweds and couples facing challenges. Clergy of all denominations refuse to marry
anyone who is not properly prepared. (Mike McManus Community Marriage Policies)
- Utah’s Governor Leavitt established a Governor’s Commission on Marriage in 1998 which
sponsors marriage education conferences for couples and is planning legislation, and a
coordinated program of school initiatives, marriage education license incentives, community
marriage policy support, and divorce and remarriage education.
- Oklahoma’s Governor Keating
- Minnesota, Maryland, Arizona, New Mexico
- First Things First