Minnesota Marriage Education bill passes!! - 7/4/01

Here's a message from Bill Doherty that gives us something additional to
celebrate on the 4th of July.  Hope you're all out there grilling and eating
watermelon and enjoying your families.

I understand that some of you will not be pleased with certain aspects of
this legislation - even distressed by it, but it is a great victory to have
Minnesota - seen as one of our most PC states - on board for strengthening
marriage through a state-wide marriage education approach.  This is a GREAT
step forward.

Hats off to Sen Steve Dille and Rep Elaine Harder, Bill Doherty and David
Olson for their years of hard work on this one.  It raises the bar -
increases the requirement for premarital education to 12 hours from the 4
hours required in FL and other states, has a significant $50 incentive, and
with the standard verification form is much more likely to be implemented by
marriage license clerks.  Maybe this means we have to have the next Smart
Marriages conference in Minneapolis!  - diane


After three years, we have success: the Minnesota premarital education
bill has passed and will become law on August 1.  It offers a fifty dollar
waiver of marriage license fees to couples who do a 12 hour premarital
education course that uses a premarital inventory and includes teaching
about communication skills and conflict management skills.  I think it's
the best such law in the country because it calls for the elements of
premarital education that research has shown are important; the other
states with premarital programs generally call for four hours and do not
specify content.

Most of the credit goes to Senator Steve Dille, with Rep. Elaine Harder
being the other major player.  A small group of us met over a number of
months to craft the bill.  We even engaged county clerks to help write into
the bill the exact language for the form that couples must submit to verify
that the requirement has been met.  (Otherwise, the 99 independent counties
could take years to develop their own, often inconsistent forms.)  David
Olson and I testified at various points in the legislature.  And then there
is the interesting story of how Steve Dille got the bill around Jesse's
certain veto.

The challenge now will be to get the word out about this law, and to raise
the standards for premarital education around the state.

Here is the relevant text:

Bill Doherty




The marriage license fee for parties who have completed at least 12 hours
of premarital education is $20. [NOTE: REDUCED FROM $70]

·       In order to qualify for the reduced fee, the parties must submit a
signed and dated statement from the person who provided the premarital
education confirming that it was received.

·       The premarital education must be provided by a licensed or ordained
minister or the minister's designee, a person authorized to solemnize
marriages under section 517.18, or a person authorized to practice marriage
and family therapy under section 148B.33.

·       The education must include the use of a premarital inventory and
the teaching of communication and conflict management skills.

·       The statement from the person who provided the premarital education
must be in the following form: "I, [name of educator], confirm that [names
of both parties] received at least 12 hours of premarital education that
included the use of a premarital inventory and the teaching of
communication and conflict management skills.  I am a licensed or ordained
minister, a person authorized to solemnize marriages under Minnesota
Statutes, section 517.18, or a person licensed to practice marriage and
family therapy under Minnesota Statutes, section 148B.33."

March 2001:

Senator Steve Dille of Minnesota has  re-introduced a bill giving a $55
waiver on marriage license fees for couples who take a 12 hour premarital
education course that includes an inventory, communications skills, and
conflict management skills.  Some of us marriage educators here in
Minnesota helped to craft the bill, which goes beyond what most other
states are considering.  We involved the county clerks in the discussions,
in order to make it logistically feasible.  This year we hope to get around
Governor Ventura's veto.  Stay tuned.  The bill can be downloaded at

Bill Doherty
April 2000:
"I do not believe that government has a role in marriage counseling," Governor
Ventura said in his April 14, 2000 veto message. "This bill is overly intrusive
and increases costs for those who choose not to receive pre-marital
counseling."   Click for rebuttle to VENTURA'S veto.

The Minnesota Legislature is In Session

Published Wednesday, April 28, 1999 Star Tribune

Senate bill would give a break to couples who get premarriage counseling

Premarriage counseling would get you a break, but a breakup would cost
you, under a bill approved by the Senate.

Twelve hours of counseling would save couples $50 on their marriage
licenses, which regularly cost $70. On the flip side, the divorce filing
fee would go from $122 to $172. The bill passed 58 to 6.

Bill sponsor Sen. Steve Dille, R-Dassel, said his goal is to strengthen
marriages while simultaneously cutting down on divorces. Last year, about
33,400 couples were married in Minnesota; about 17,450 divorced.

"Is it a cure-all? Absolutely not," said Sen. Dean Johnson, R-Willmar, a
Lutheran pastor. "It's just a positive step."

Opponents argued that premarriage counseling is unproven and that raising
divorce fees would be an added burden in an already difficult time. Some
suggested couples would separate but not divorce.

They wanted to fund the counseling discount with general fund dollars.
Dille said that would cost $875,000 per year if half the engaged couples
take advantage of the program.


Premarital Education Bill: Overview and Response to Questions
State of Minnesota
        January, 2000
David H. Olson, Ph.D.
  University of Minnesota

                    "Failing to prepare is like preparing to fail."

1. What is the Premarital Education Bill ?

The proposed Minnesota State law is designed to encourage couples
planning to marry to take a premarital education program of 12 hours or
more. The financial incentive to the couple is that their marriage
license fee would be reduced by $50 so they would pay only $20 for their
marriage license.

The 12 hours of premarital education can be provided by a licensed or
ordained minister of any religious denomination or a person authorized to
practice marriage and family therapist.

The marriage education bill proposed contains the essential components of
a successful premarital program (Olson & DeFrain, 2000) and those
components include the following:
- a discussion of the seriousness of marriage
-take a premarital inventory and receive feedback on it
- learn communication and conflict resolution skills
- discuss the desirability of seeking marital counseling in times of
marital difficulties.

2. What is the rationale for passing a Premarital Education Bill?

The ultimate goal of this bill is to help to strengthen marriage and
reduce the rate of divorce.  With the current rate of divorce about 50%,
the goal is to improve the quality of marriage so that both people will
be more satisfied and less interested in divorce. Even for the 50% of
marriages that survive, the quality of some of those marriages may be
poor (Popenoe and Whitehead, 1999).  An intensive study of newlyweds by
Arond & Pauker (1987) found that 51% of the couples had serious doubts
their marriage would last, 49% felt they had serious marital problems and
42% found their marriage was harder than they thought.  A respected
sociologist, Norval Glenn (1996) found that after ten years of marriage,
only 25% of the couples will still be happily married.

        Annually about 1.8 million couples marry each year and about 1 million
divorce in the United States.  The average length of marriage for those
that end in divorce is only 7 years and over 1 million children are
affected by divorce each year (U. S. Bureau of Census, 1997).

        "It (marriage) happens as with cages.  The birds without despair to get
in and those within despair of getting out."  Montaigne (1595)

Except for marriage, in no other important area of life do we assume that
you can be successful without having any training. To be successful in a
career or to even to get a driver*s license, we assume that you need some
education and training. But people planning to marry falsely assume that
just being in love is sufficient to have a successful marriage.  However,
we now know that you need be get prepared for marriage just like you do
for other important aspects of life.

        By giving premarital couples important relationship skills
(communication and conflict resolution) and ways to build on their
relationship strengths, couples will be able to get their marriage off to
a better start.  Studies of premarital education programs have
demonstrated that the couples have a greater chance for marital success
and will less likely divorce (Markman, Stanley & Blumberg, 1996; Bray &
Jouriles, 1995).

        "The dignity of a vocation is always to be measured by the seriousness
of the preparation for it.  How then do we appraise marriage?"     R.
Herbert Newton

3. What are the advantages of a good Premarital Education Program?

Ö It can help couples get their marriage off to a better start and also
help couples build a stronger marriage.
Ö Stronger marriages can reduce the chance of divorce.
Ö It can identify premarital couples who are considered high-risk for
divorce who need more intensive counseling before marriage.
Ö It can discourage some premarital couples from getting married. We have
found with the PREPARE Program that 10-15% of couples who take the
program six months to a year before marriage cancel their wedding plans
(Fowers & Olson, 1986).  Preventing a bad marriage is, thereby, one way
to prevent divorce.
Ö It can help couples learn important relationship skills that they can
use to strengthen their marriage over time.
Ö It can motivate couples to see the value of attending future marriage
education programs.
Ö It can encourage married couples to seek marital therapy if they have
ongoing marital problems.

4.  What are the possible limitations or risks of the bill?

One possible limitation of the bill is that there is no guarantee that
these premarital education programs will prevent all divorces. Since this
program is voluntary, many of the couples most needing the programs will
not choose this option.

The cost of the premarital program will cost the couple anywhere from $30
to $500, depending on the nature of the program they receive and who
provides the program.  The least expensive programs are provided by
clergy of various denominations since they provide these programs as a
service to a couple. Most clergy only charge a fee for the cost of a
premarital inventory (about $30).  The most expensive programs are
provided by marital and family therapists.

Most couples spend more time and money on their wedding that lasts one
day than on their relationship, which is intended to last a lifetime. It
is important to put the cost of the premarital education programs into a
broader perspective. Most couples (and their parents) getting married
typically spend between $10,000 to $15,000 for the entire wedding and
reception.  The flowers alone often cost at least $1,000. It would be
much wiser for the couple and their parents to put some of the money they
plan to spend on the wedding into investing in future couple education

5. Why should a state care about promoting more stable marriages?

First, strong marriages have multiple benefits to individuals and
society.  Children raised in a two parent home tend to more emotionally
stable, more successful in school and more popular with peers (Amato &
Booth, 1997). Conversely, children of divorce have less academic success
and more emotional problems, regardless of their economic or social class
(Cherlin, et al., 1998).

Second, when children of divorce become young adults, they have a higher
rate of cohabitation and have more problems in their marriages resulting
in a higher rate of divorce (Amato & Booth, 1997).

Third, couples with a good marriage lead a healthier lifestyle, live
longer, have a more satisfying sexual relationship, have more wealth and
economic assets than single or divorced people (Waite,1998).

Fourth, the state could save tax payers money by investing in building
strong marriages rather than having to support individuals and children
after divorce.  States currently pay a great deal of money in payment of
child support, court services and other expensive support services to
families where there is a divorce.

6. Would taking a Premarital Education Program delay how quickly a
couple could get married?

        Taking a premarital education program would not delay marriage for most
couples since they are often engaged for six months to one year before
marriage. Couples planning a wedding often need to make reservations for
their church and for their wedding party and reception at least 6-12
months in advance.

However, taking a premarital program could delay marriage for some
couples wanting to marry quickly.  This is because the law requires 12
hours of premarital education, most programs are spread over several
weeks. But delaying marriage can be a positive aspect of this requirement
since many fast marriages are with younger couples that are high risk for

7. Are premarital couples required to take a Premarital Education course
before marriage?

No, this law does not require the premarital education program since it
is completely voluntary.  It is hoped that by having it voluntary rather
than mandated for everyone, couples will have a more positive attitude
about taking advantage of this opportunity.

8. Have other states passed similar legislation and what is the impact of
the legislation?

Florida was the first state to pass similar legislation in 1998 and they
are currently studying the interest in the premarital education programs
and the impact that they are having on marriage (Ooms, 1999). Many other
states are currently considering very similar marriage education bills.
Minnesota has the opportunity now to become a leader in pro-marriage
legislation in the nation.


 Arond, M. & Pauker, S. L. (1987) The first year of marriage. New York:
        Basic Books.

Amato, P. R. & Booth, A. (1997) A generation at risk: Growing up in an
era of family upheaval.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Bray, J. H. & Jouriles, E. N. (1995) Treatment of marital conflict and
prevention of divorce.  Journal of Marital and Family Therapy,  21,

Cherlin, A. J., Chase-Lansdale, P. L., & Mc Rae, C. (1995) Treatment of
marital conflict and prevention of divorce.  Journal of Marital and
Family Therapy, 21, 461-473.

Fowers, B. J. & Olson, D. H. (1986) Predicting marital success with
PREPARE: A predictive validity study. Journal of Marital and Family
Therapy, 12, 403-412.

Markman, H., Stanley, S. and Blumberg, S. (1996) Fighting for your
marriage. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Olson, D. H. & DeFrain, J. (2000) Marriage and Family: Diversity &
Strengths. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing.

Ooms, T. (1998a) Strategies to strengthen marriage. Washington, DC:
Family Impact Seminar.

Popenoe, D. & Whitehead, B. D. (1999) The state of our unions. New
Bunswick, NJ: National Marriage Project, Rutgers University.

U. S. Bureau of the Census. (1997) Statistical abstract of the United
States. (117th edition). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing

Waite, L. (1998) "Why marriage matters." In T. Ooms (Ed.) Strategies to
strengthen marriage. (pp. 1-22) Washington, DC: Family Impact Seminar.


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