IMPORTANT NOTICE TO MINISTERS AND OTHER PROVIDERS OF PREMARITAL
Effective January 1st, 1999, Florida's revised marriage
law will change the procedure in issuing licenses.
In an effort to strengthen marriage bonds, the legislature
will now require couples wishing to be married in Florida to take a
4-hour premarital preparation course, or in default
have a 3-day waiting period imposed on the issuance of the
license (this law does not apply to non-residents of
All providers of this course must be registered with the
Clerk of the Circuit Court before offering the course and before
issuing Certificates of Completion to marriage license
FLORIDA PASSES NATION'S MOST SWEEPING REFORM OF MARRIAGE
by Mike McManus May 16, 1998
Can a liberal Jew from Miami Beach (Rep. Elaine Bloom) work
with a conservative head of the Christian Coalition in Florida
(John Dowless) and produce a law that can cut the
divorce rate in Florida? As unlikely as it sounds, that's what
happened last week.
By a vote in the Florida House of 91 to 16, and a unanimous
vote in the Senate, the Legislature passed the "Marriage
Preparation and Preservation Act of 1998." It is the
sweeping and positive reform of both marriage and divorce law of
any state in decades.
The bill's opening words are both wise and eloquent a rare
feat in itself:
``Just as the family is the foundation of society, the
marital relationship is the foundation of a family. Consequently,
strengthening marriages can only lead to stronger
children and communities, as well as a stronger economy.
``An inability to cope with stress from both internal and
external sources leads to significantly higher incidents of
domestic violence, child abuse, absenteeism, medical
learning and social deficiencies, and divorce.
``Relationship skills can be learned.
``Once learned, relationship skills can facilitate
communication between parties to a marriage and assist couples in
avoiding conflict. Once relationship skills are learned,
are generalized to parenting, the workplace, schools
neighborhoods and civic relationships.
``By reducing conflict and increasing communication,
stressors can be diminished and coping can be furthered. When
effective coping exists, domestic violence, child abuse,
and divorce and its effect on children...are diminished.
``The state has a compelling interest in educating its
citizens with regard to marriage and, if contemplated, the effects
of divorce,'' says Florida's new bill.
Therefore, the bill, which is expected to be signed by the
governor, takes these new steps:
1. High school students must take a course in ``marriage and
relationship skill-based education.'' No state ever made such a
2. Engaged couples are encouraged to take a ``premarital
education course'' of at least four hours which it suggests include
instruction on conflict resolution, communication
skills, financial responsibilities, children and parenting and
data on problems married couples face.
Those who take such a course from a church or secular
counselor can get a $32.50 reduction in the cost of their marriage
license, which normally costs between $88 and
$200, depending on the county. Each courthouse will have a
roster of houses of worship or counselors certified to give the
Originally, the bill required premarital preparation, but
both conservatives and liberals did not want government to
interfere that much. However, both sides could live with
strong encouragement, with the sweetener of a reduced marriage
3. Each couple applying for a marriage license will also be
given a handbook prepared by the Bar Association to inform couples
of ``the rights and responsibilities under Florida
law of marital partners to each other and to their children,
both during a marriage and upon dissolution.'' For example, it
notes ``permanent relocation restrictions on parents''
caring for children in divorce. Both the man and woman must sign
a statement that they have read it, but are not tested on
Rep. Bloom said, ``For many years I felt we needed to give
people an understanding of what the laws of Florida are. If they
knew they would be financially responsible for the
child forever,'' they might not be so quick to divorce.
4. Couples with children who file for divorce must take a
``Parent Education and Family Stabilization Course'' that covers
the legal and emotional impact of divorce on adults and
children, financial responsibility, laws on child abuse or
neglect and they must learn conflict resolution skills. The course
has existed for some time, but it is normally taken after
divorce is final. Rep. Bloom says, ``We hope that by starting
early, within a month of filing a divorce petition, before it
becomes too adversarial, when parents see how children
suffer short-term and long-term detrimental economic, emotional
and educational effects,'' that couples will see it is easier and
wiser to make a marriage work than a divorce.
The Christian Coalition's Dowless adds, ``The state has given
a challenge to the churches and synagogues. They have a chance to
step forward and register free courses at
the courthouse to help people who would not normally get
'' I predict Florida's law will inspire many states to pass
Copyright 1998 Michael J. McManus
Mike McManus has been writing the ``Ethics & Religion''
column since 1981. He is syndicated in more than 90
Schools to teach lessons of marriage
Karen Peterson, USA Today
Add a fourth "R" for relationships to reading, 'riting and
When the Florida Legislature in May passed the nation's first
law requiring that all high schoolers be taught marital and
relationships skills, the state took the lead in a
burgeoning but controversial movement.
The growing push is the result of a new body of research that
suggests specific interpersonal skills could lower the divorce rate
for the next generation - a generation that does
not want to repeat the mistakes of its parents. Zealous advocates
believe this knowledge should be taught to teens and even preteens
"Florida's move is landmark and visionary," says Diane Sollee,
founder of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples
Education. Her "Smart Marriages: Happy Families"
conference, which concluded Sunday in Arlington, Va., spotlighted
the trend. The newest courses will help students know "marriage is
not a helpless crapshoot," she says. "If
we've got this new information, we have an obligation to make it
available to future generations."
Experts still predict at least one in four new marriages will
end in divorce. Some teachers and students, from Pennsylvania to
Oklahoma and South Dakota, are enthusiastic
about courses that could affect the statistics.
Claremore, Okla., counselor Phyllis Hess decided her school
needed something new when she heard a teen-ager outlining her
life's plan. "She said she would go to college,
get married, get divorced and then get married again," Hess says.
"That spoke volumes to me: We need to teach a new foundation for
Lynn Dixon teaches a course called Partners to high schoolers in
Philadelphia. She could have used the course herself, she says. "I
married the same man twice and divorced
him twice. I was a victim of poetry about marriage. This course
gives a pragmatic look at couplehood; love does not flow like a
Eighteen-year-old Styvens George met his girlfriend in Dixon's
classroom. "I learned one person has to be a listener," George
says. "The course helped me not be competitive
about winning. I'm not just trying to get my point across."
His girlfriend, Kimberly Jackson, 17, took the course partly
because her parents have divorced. "I wanted to see what marriage
was going to be like," she says. But skeptics are
also speaking up. "Schools are not in the business of guaranteeing
happy marriages," says Donna Fowler of the American Federation of
Teachers. "These courses may be
fine, but there is not enough time to do an adequate job of
teaching math, reading and science. Loading this stuff on teachers
Others wonder about the training of teachers and whether such
courses - which vary in length, focus and demands on instructors -
are actually effective.
Many schools around the country already teach some form of
family life course. But Sollee and others say the majority don't
measure up. Cutting-edge programs present the
newest research, including specific communication techniques, the
behaviors most likely to cause divorce, rules for settling conflict
and the importance of family patterns in
Existing programs are being modified, some to reach ever-younger
children. New programs rolling out include:
Pairs for Peers by family therapists Morris and Lori Gordon.
Based on landmark courses for adults, programs will be launched
nationally for middle and high school students this
Building Relationships: Skills for a Lifetime, co-authored by
researcher David Olson. For ages 13 to 18, the course will be ready
by September. Olson's two pioneering
programs, for engaged couples and those already married, have been
used by more than 1 million in eight countries.
EQ (Social-Emotional Intelligence), from psychologist Mo Therese
Hannah. In development to teach relationship-building skills to
those in kindergarten to eighth grade. A full
range of materials will be available later this year.
On Aug. 2, about 50 interested teachers from throughout South
Dakota will be trained to teach Connections: Relationships and
Marriage, a campaign spearheaded by Scott
Gardner of South Dakota State University. Connections was developed
by a teacher, Char Kamper, with backing from the private, nonprofit
Some of the most vocal advocates of new courses are judges and
lawyers disillusioned by the carnage they have seen in court. Judge
Dynda Post of Oklahoma's 12th Judicial
District says: "Many kids in Oklahoma just get married too young.
And the younger you marry, the fewer skills you have." With funding
in part from the Family Law section of the
Oklahoma Bar Association, she is part of a grass-roots network
seeking separate relationships courses for younger and older
Lynne Gold-Bikin is a divorced divorce lawyer who wants to put
herself out of business. Divorce lawyers "know more about what
breaks up marriages than anybody." Working
with Pairs materials and funding from the American Bar Association,
Gold-Bikin launched Partners in 1994 based on "communications
skills, life skills and the law. . . . This is not
touchy-feely stuff. This is real life." Partners is in 31
Students stress they learn as much about themselves as about
relationships. "You learn what you are inside," says Luke Hsu, 17,
who took Connections in Redlands, Calif.
"Most of the time you put on a fake face in public just to impress
Defenders of skills-based marital and relationships training
stress that the lessons learned can be applied in a wide arena,
with parents, siblings, teachers, peers and bosses.
Student Ashley Foreman, 16, of Wood Dale, Ill., agrees after
taking Pairs for Peers. "You can go through your life being totally
smart. . . . but if you don't have people skills, you
won't get the job. But you have to be with people no matter where
you go. You need to have things go smoothly instead of having all
these little fights."
Critics, however, suggest such courses may be only marginally
useful. Any teacher who can help a child communicate more
effectively is "giving a child a gift," "Under stress,
children will handle aggression and anger primarily the way the
people who raised them did," says SaraKay Smullens, a Philadelphia
marriage and family therapist. A teacher can
teach that patterns of communication can be altered, "but they will
have to work very hard to change them."
She is also concerned that teachers who may be given no training
at all may not be prepared to deal with possible emotional fallout.
Teachers should be able to "consult
continuously with a trained therapist who understands the
complexity of childhood development."
Although there is much positive, anecdotal feedback from
teachers and students, Diane Sollee says as yet there is little
scientific research supporting skills-based marital and
relationships training in schools.
Some discouraging news came recently from pioneering researcher
John Gottman, who found that in the middle of an argument even
happily married couples cannot always
use techniques for fighting fair.
Some analysis is on the way. California State University San
Bernardino and South Dakota State University will independently
evaluate results of the Connections program,
now used in 20 states.
Developed at Boston University with a federal grant, "The Art of
Loving Well" is now used in 47 states. A government-sponsored study
of eighth-graders during field tests of
the course found that 8% became sexually active during the school
year after the course; 28% of a control group did.
Sollee stresses that most courses have nothing to do with sex
education and are nonsectarian. The courses can be used, of course,
in many places that feature religion,
including church and community groups.
Most in the relationships movement say that what they teach is
more relevant than many current courses. "There is a lot of
learning in schools today that does not contribute to
what students do in their daily lives," researcher David Olson
says. "These interpersonal skills they will use for the rest of
By Karen S. Peterson, USA TODAY copyright - all rights
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