Legislature Can Strengthen Marriages

No, you can’t legislate morality. But let’s not push that too far.

No, a brief class to instruct couples on the principles of good marriage won’t spin them around on a dime. But let’s not discount the value of education either.

Laws can support good social institutions or they can allow those institutions to deteriorate. Laws can safeguard the building blocks that strengthen that society. State legislatures across the US are wrestling with innovative ways to strengthen marriage. Smart Marriages has been encouraging them to do even more. I asked my “Counseling and Law” class at Dallas Theological Seminary to write a paper describing what’s going on in this area currently. Elaine Charles did a good job, I think, so I share her paper with you. It’s an informative read.

Elaine Charles
April 2008

With an ever increasing divorce rate and the need to support the vow that is made between a man and a woman, many states have taken measures to support the marriage relationship. These measures will be introduced, examined, and discussed including their potential strengths and weaknesses. In addition to the measures that states have put forth up to this point, suggestions will be made concerning action that the great state of Texas can take in fighting for the marriage relationship.

The state of Florida is one of the leading states that have implemented measures to support marriages. In January 1999, Florida Governor, Jeb Bush, became the first governor to sign a Community Marriage Policy. This Community Marriage Policy is focused on saving marriages at every part of the marital cycle. In addition, Governor Bush signed a bill that became effective May 1, 2003 which replaced the Florida Commission on Responsible Fatherhood with the Commission on Marriage and Family Support. The goal for this is to strengthen families, including marriage relationships.

The Florida Legislature decided that a law was needed to recognize how important marriage is to families in the state. In 1998 lawmakers passed that law based on a multitude of factors including: divorce rates accelerating, ability to implement effective coping skills, learning relationship skills, and so forth and implemented the Marriage Handbook, which was produced in 1999. The Marriage Handbook of Florida fell under the legislation that Governor Lawton Chiles signed, the “Florida Marriage Preparation and Preservation Act of 1998”, making Florida the first state to pass marriage education legislation. The act was the first to require marriage skills education as part of high school curriculum, to offer an incentive for couples taking marriage education courses before applying for their marriage license, and mandate divorce education for all couples divorcing with minor children.

Florida is also one of the three states that implements and distributes Marriage Handbooks. In January of 1999, the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar produced the Family Law Handbook. From the beginning, the handbook speaks for the State of the Florida’s interest in the marriage relationship and introduces four main things that need to be done to take care of oneself in times ahead: Your COMMITMENT to each other, Yourself, Any children you might have or adopt, and Your stuff (money, property, stocks, etc.) The handbook includes various sections including: Things you need to know, Marriage is a Legal relationship, Economic Issues, Liabilities, Spousal Support (Alimony), Upon the Death of a husband or wife, and Child Related Issues, which is the most extensive sections of the entire handbook. This new law mandates that couples read this handbook and also offer the incentive of saving $32.50 on your marriage license fee if you take a premarital education course. Marriage education is encouraged at any time during the marital relationship and courses are offered at various times.

British Columbia is another of the three states that has implemented a Marriage Handbook. The State believes that marriage is a developing relationship and requires individuals to accommodate the needs and wants of their partner, without losing sight of personal goals and sense of self. The handbook emphasizes the importance of the couple growing and achieving intimacy emotionally, intellectually, socially, recreationally, spiritually, and physically. Sections included in the handbook are: Recognizing What’s Important, Things that have influenced you, Looking at your expectations, Understanding conflict, Overcoming difficulties, The common experiences of marriage, Sharing decisions, Banishing the myths, and Reaching out. The goal of the Marriage Handbook is for the couple to experience richer and more meaningful marriages.

Alabama is the third state that implements a Marriage Handbook for their state. The Alabama Marriage Handbook: Healthy Marriages, Healthy Families is available electronically and entails a multitude of subject areas including: 1. How you think and What you do, 2. Managing your marriage: money, work and family, home and house, care responsibilities, children, and in-laws, 3. Special Topics: a)Remarriages: Myths and Realities, Strategies for Steparenting, Co-parenting with Ex-partners b)Issues that hurt relationships: Substance abuse, Gambling and other addictions, Mental health problems, sexual infidelity c) Domestic Violence: About domestic violence, Myths and facts, and Where to get Help, and 4. Resources. The information contained in the Alabama Marriage Handbook is intended to help build healthy marriages and to share information about things that have been researched that lead to successful marriage.

Three additional states have taken initiatives from the Governor’s position including: Utah, Oklahoma, and Arkansas and have publicly made reducing the divorce rate a goal of their administration. Utah’s representative, Governor Michael Leavitt, organized the nation’s first Governor’s Commission on Marriage and charged the Commission with the task of identifying programs and tools to strengthen marriage. Governor Frank Keating of Oklahoma declared war on divorce and vowed to reduce the divorce rate by 1/3 by 2010 in Oklahoma in his January 1999 inaugural address. He also assembled the First Governor’s Conference on Marriage in March of 1999 and in March of 2000 announced a $10 million dollar comprehensive plan to promote awareness of the value of marriage and to provide marriage education programs at all levels. Finally, Governor Huckabee of Arkansas convened a Governor’s Conference on the Family in October of 1999 and declared a marital emergency, calling for a 50% reduction of divorce in the state and nationally. He also encouraged the formation of Community Marriage Policies both statewide and nationally. Huckabee also signed the Arkansas Marriage Covenant legislation into law in April of 2001.

The state of Florida appears to have a wealth of resources and measures that have been taken to support marriage. Initiatives from the Governor’s position as well as the implementation of a mandated Marriage Handbook are measures of utmost significance. The mandate for the Marriage Handbook seems to be a measure that would strengthen marriage and would hopefully increase the probability of couples utilizing the resource, especially since the distribution is not just mandatory but the reading of it is as well. The incentive for reducing the marriage license fee for those couples who take premarital education courses would also seem to have positive impact on the percentage of couples enrolling for such courses. The importance of premarital education is a way to support the marriage relationship before it even begins and is something that I believe is of priceless value. My husband and I went through pre-engagement and pre-marriage counseling and nothing better prepared us for a successful marriage relationship. Premarital courses should be mandated to some extent for all couples entering into marriage, which would seem to decrease the number of individuals who “rush off and get married” as well as build a solid foundation for the couple to work from once the wedding took place.

The states mentioned beyond the state of Florida also seem to have taken measures to support the marriage relationship, but I feel that a mandate to read a Marriage Handbook should be implemented in every state. This is legislation that I would support for the state of Texas and even believe that a brief exam following the reading of the handbook would further stress the importance of understanding basic principles that support marriage. The lack of legislation in Texas concerning marriage is an area that should be of great concern and should be highly examined for future legislation.

The measures that various states have taken to support marriage are not present in the majority of states. While the measures that are put in place appear to have benefit and potential strength for marriages and families, this legislation has vast improvements to make and a great need for expansion and growth. In a world where more couples are ending there marriages than not, we should not be lacking in resources to enrich and support marriage relationships. Hopefully other states, such as Texas, will follow in the footsteps of the leading states in this marital legislation, such as Florida, and see the great need of providing citizens with supportive resources that will better marriages, families, and overall communities.

Information obtained for this paper was found on the smartmarriages.com website in various locations, predominantly under the “Legislation” tab.

3 Responses to Legislature Can Strengthen Marriages

  1. Dr. Jaggers,
    I saw your post on the May 1, 2008 Smart Marriages email listserv.
    I am the Family Life and Marriage Program Specialist with Dallas Regional Office of the U.S. Administration for Children and Families (ACF) and as such do extensive work with ACF funded Healthy Marriage Initiative grantees in our 5 State Region (approx. 40 in Texas) and a wide variety of State, community based and faith-based organizations. In reading your post and Elaine Charles’ paper, it appears that you are not aware of all that is going on in Texas as the result of State legislation that was pasted in the last session of the State Legislature in 2007. As a result of this legislation, (House Bills 2683 & 2685) Texas is now one of the leading States in the Nation regarding support and funding for marriage strengthening programs that will reach all regions of the State. I recommend that you contact Mr. Jeff Johnson’s Office. (512) 206-5187, with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and ask them to send you information on the Twogether in Texas Program that is currently being implemented. You also can contact me at 214-767-7327 for more information.

  2. Car says:

    just browsed in….

    Wasn’t what I was looking for, but good website. Thanks….

  3. I don�t usually reply to posts but I will in this case. Good Stuff – Nice relationship Ideas too:)

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