Newspaper articles on the Tennessee marriage education legislation:

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(These first two articles disscuss legislation in Tennessee pertaining to
premarital education classes,  House Bill #1334 (Senate Bill 0899) passed to
the Senate Judiciary Committee on 5/01/01 .  This bill introduced a discount
on a marriage license to couples who take a premarital education class.  The legislation
passed and was signed into law on July 4, 2002.)

Wednesday, 05/16/01
The Tennessean

Parenting Plan aims for less combative divorces

By BONNA de la CRUZ Staff Writer

An additional $62.50 fee may be required to get a marriage license to
finance a Parenting Plan designed to make divorces less combative.

The fee, approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, would be
waived if soon-to-be-married couples agree to attend a pre-marital
preparation course, said Sen. Thelma Harper, D-Nashville, the Senate
sponsor.

The committee unanimously approved the funding mechanism. The House Budget
Subcommittee is scheduled to take up the bill today.

The plan would require divorcing couples with young children to attend
classes and complete a written agreement on how to deal with their kids, and
other issues.

The new fee would generate about $2.9 million. Of that, $1.4 million would
pay judicial coordinators to run the Parenting Plan. The remaining funds
would be split between child abuse and domestic violence prevention
programs. Court clerks would get $2.50 from each fee to handle paperwork.

''The argument for this is we have such a high divorce rate,'' said Sen. Joe
Haynes, D-Goodlettsville. Tennessee ranks second in divorces in the nation.

Each year, about 33,000 Tennessee couples divorce, affecting 60,000
children. Backers say the Parenting Plan forces couples to put their
children's well-being first.

If a couple can't agree on their ''plan,'' a court can keep them out of
rancorous court battles by ordering mediation.

Out-of-state couples who get married in the Gatlinburg resort area would be
exempt.

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TENNESSEE MARRIAGE EDUCATION LEGISLATION:

Chattanooga Times Free Press 6/21/01
Panel OKs bill to raise marriage fees $62.50
AP article by Karin Miller

A bill to increase marriage fees by $62.50 made progress on Thursday in the
state Legislature.

Revenues from the increase would be used to aid domestic violence and child
abuse victims, and to fund a year-old law that allows judges to order
parenting plans, mediation and parental education for divorcing couples.

The Senate Finance Committee approved the bill, which would net the state
about $1.6 million annually.

The parenting program would receive $30 from the marriage fee; $15 would go
to programs for abused children and $15 to domestic violence program
funding.  The remaining $2.50 would be paid to clerks to offset additional
costs created by the filings.

It currently costs between $15 and $30 to get married in Tennessee,
depending on the county.  Under the bill, couples who get four hours of
premarital counseling would get a $60 rebate on the total fee.

Supporters of the legislation said counseling might cut down on the number
of divorces in Tennessee.  The state ranks second in the nation in divorces
behind Nevada.

"It's really worth it if you know in advance what you're getting into.
Those bubbles won't always be flying," said Sen. Thelma Harper, D-Nashville.

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This article appeared a month after implementation of the legislation.
 

Fib starts marriage for some in Shelby

Claim counseling on form, save $60

By Lela Garlington
August 24, 2002
Scripps

A new state law that knocks $60 off the price of a marriage license if a
couple get premarital counseling isn't always producing the intended result.

It may be too easy to get the discount without getting the counseling.

If a couple fill out the form claiming they got the counseling but really
didn't, they face no penalty if they're caught.

Plus, the law requires no one to verify that the counseling actually
occurred.

"The county clerks can only do what the state law requires" - collect the
forms, said legal consultant Libby McCroskey with the state's county
technical assistance service in Nashville.

"They don't have any authority to do anything beyond that," she said.

The new law went into effect July 4 and was written to make premarital
counseling more attractive.

In Shelby County, for example, marriage licenses cost $37.50 with
certification of counseling and $97.50 without.

Ron Isbell, 52, was married this week but didn't cotton to the higher fee.

The law is so easy to circumvent, he said, that "it's an absolute joke. Only
some slow-minded person would ever have paid the higher fee. I'm not
slow-minded. I got married. I didn't pay mine (the higher fee)."

Barbara Hodges works at the Mall of Memphis in one of the busiest satellite
offices of the county clerk, processing marriage licenses.

She acknowledged she's been suspicious of some couples who have gotten the
form and hours later returned with it filled out.

"We're not a police station," said Hodges. Still, she said, "I can't imagine
anyone starting their marriage off with a lie."

Some couples are reluctantly paying the higher fee. "It's too much money,"
said Harriet Jones, 54, as she and her soon-to-be husband, Charlie Jones,
59, waited this week for a clerk to finish processing the paperwork.

Others are getting the counseling because their church requires it, not
because the state is encouraging it.

"I agree with it (the new law) wholeheartedly. I think we needed it more
than anyone else," said recent newlywed David Fulghum, 44, who is on his
third marriage.

His bride, Dianna Phifer-Fulghum, 52, said she believes an even higher
licensing fee of $150 would encourage more couples to get counseling before
marriage.

A recent tally out of almost 700 marriage licenses issued in Shelby County
found that seven out of 10 couples saved the extra $60 fee. During the first
five weeks, Mary Nalley, supervisor for the downtown marriage license
office, said 511 couples turned in the premarital counseling form compared
with 187 couples who paid the higher licensing fee.

The extra $60 goes to pay for court-ordered mediation and social programs
aimed at children and families.

While most forms appear to be legitimate with easily recognizable names of
local churches and ministers, an undetermined number are impossible to read.

Local and state officials are hoping people cooperate out of a desire to be
generally law-abiding citizens.

The legislation's sponsor said most small-town county clerks are going to
know the couples getting married. In that atmosphere, "people are going to
know if couples are circumventing the law or not," said state Rep. Bob
Patton (R-Johnson City). He admitted that likely is impossible in cities
such as Memphis.

If a number of county clerks believe it's a problem, Patton said, he'll
consider amending the law during the next legislative session. He doesn't
know how he'll correct the problem or what penalties he may attempt to add.

Patton said Tennessee had about 85,000 marriages and 33,000 divorces in
1999, giving it one of the highest divorce rates in the nation.

Most couples are getting counseling from a minister but a psychologist,
clinical social worker, licensed family therapist, clinical pastoral
therapist, professional counselor or psychological examiner can also do the
work.
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