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Make MARRIAGE Harder, Not Divorce

 article about marriage

This week's edition of the PBS program To The Contrary, aired Sunday, February 6, 2005, featured a segment titled "No Fault, No More," in which the topic of tougher divorce laws were discussed. According to this segment, there is talk in several state legislatures about making it harder for married couples to divorce. As if the current laws aren't tough enough already. Anyone who has "been there, done that" can speak from personal experience that the laws as they exist now make it anything but easy for men and women to leave a bad marriage.

When it comes to divorce, couples have basically two choices. Option one is to stay in the marriage, attend counseling sessions, and hope it works out for the best, or option number two, to leave and hope things will work out much better the next time. This is, of course, assuming that a couple who has been through a rocky divorce even wants a next time. Some folks I have talked to had such a bad experience with ending an unhappy marriage that it is a territory they vow never to venture into again, or at least not for the foreseeable future. Those who are strongly opposed to divorce for reasons other than abuse or adultery believe that staying in the marriage and doing their best to work out the problems is the more desirable alternative, especially in marriages that have produced children. But is that really the best alternative, or simply one that they prefer over the choice to separate. That has always been the tough question to answer, and each side of the issue has its own reasons why they believe their particular solution is the best.

Of course, there is the third "alternative," which is often talked about, but other than at faith-based institutions, has not been widely implemented. The third alternative is to make it harder for couples to get married. Although this may sound like a draconian extreme, it really isn't. Couples who wish to get married in a particular church, be it a conservative faith or progressive, generally have to undergo a series of requirements such as premarital counseling classes, and completing of questionnaires that can raise the "red flags" of potential trouble early. Couples that may have disagreements, such as who will handle the money in the marriage, whether children will be part of the marriage or how many to have, can raise these issues in the counseling class, and get opinions from the counselor and participants alike. If they cannot successfully resolve these problems to their mutual satisfaction, the counselor would suggest that they postpone wedding plans until they can be worked out, even if it means ending the relationship.

Those who have more secularist leanings and prefer to avoid religion in their own relationships find that relationship counseling before and after marriage can come with a high price tag. And I have to wonder why that is. If some states are concerned enough about the rising divorce rates to make their divorce laws even harder, why not simply head divorce off at the pass? Why not have each state set up its own pre-marital counseling course, and make it available at a nominal fee that even those on minimum wage can afford? If churches can do it at no charge for their members, there is no reason why it can't be done at a government level. The county clerk's office charges a fee for performing civil marriage ceremonies; they could add one or two counselors on to preside over these courses as well.

Of course, there will be the back-and-forth debates and discussions on how long to make the course, who should be hired to teach it, how often should it be held and what materials should be provided. Well, here are some possible suggestions, respectively. The course can be anywhere from six to eight weeks, to be held once or twice each week, depending on the time schedule of the qualified relationship counselor available. Once the counselor is hired, he or she will decide the more workable details. Sounds simple enough to me.

Naturally, such an idea will have its critics, who believe that such measures amount to "government intrusion" into the marital decisions of individuals. Strangely enough, some of these critics have no problem with the same government intrusion when it comes to making divorce harder. I guess it's a matter of what one wants the government to support. When it isn't something they favor, it is "intrusion," when it's an action they want implemented, it's a "necessity."

We all know the hardships divorce can cause, for both couples and families. Provinding pre-marital counseling at the state and city level at little or even no cost, would simply turn it around and make marriage take a little bit longer to enter. Chances are that raising the potential signs of marital disharmony in a pre-marital counseling setting, be it in a religious or secular environment, will help a couple smooth over the bumps before the wedding takes place, which could significantly reduce the rate of unhappy marriages and divorce over time. The goal of happy marriages for all couples is a worthy one to strive for, and that society as a whole should make every effort to achieve.

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