PASS Senate Bill 54: Promotion of Premarital Education and Counseling

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This bill gives couples an incentive to take premarital education classes. Couples will not only get a $20 discount on their marriage license, but they will also be better prepared for the marriage they enter into. We want strong, happy, healthy, and lasting marriages in our communities and state. Passing this legislation will aid in working toward that important ideal and goal. Please join us in signing this petition.

 

For more information, read below:


Senate Sponsor: Sen. Allen Christensen

House Sponsor: Rep. Becky Edwards

Bill Summary:

  • Bill will encourage a greater proportion of Utah couples to participate in formal premarital education by providing them a $20 discount on their marriage license when they do so.
  • The bill will be implemented only when counties convert to an online marriage application system, which will save counties significant expense and allow for a 2-tier- fee system. (Utah Co. online March 2018; Weber, Washington, Iron Counties working; others will follow quickly or risk losing revenue.)
  • Counties have authority to raise marriage license fees to compensate for the loss of revenue if the savings from online applications do not cover lost revenue. Any rises would likely be $5-20. (Implementing an online application process will result in significant savings.)
  • Those couples who do not chose to participate in premarital education will pay the set fee for their marriage license; they do not get a $20 discount.
  • $20 from marriage license fees of those who do not participate in premarital education will go to support marriage strengthening educational services across the state managed by the Utah Marriage Commission (Department of Human Services). (Any generated funds in excess of $400,000 will be returned to the State General Fund.)
  • Couples may take a class from either a secular or a religious provider; they also can take a high-quality online program with a free voucher from the Utah Marriage Commission.
  • Premarital education must be at least 6 hours in length; premarital counseling (with a state-licensed mental health practitioner) must be at least 3 hours in length.
  • Premarital education or premarital counseling must include information on: (a) important factors associated with strong, healthy marriages; (b) commitment in marriage; and (c) effective communication and problem-solving skills, including avoiding violence and abuse in the relationship.
  • Premarital education must be taken at least 14 days prior to the marriage license date and not more than 1 year before that date. (Ideally, engaged couples will participate together in premarital education but they may take it separately.)
  • Utah Marriage Commission will regularly publicize information on premarital education. (The Commission’s short-term goal is to raise participation rates from about 33% to 50%.)
  • Note: $10 of the marriage license fee currently goes to a state account for the Children’s Legal Defense (services for families who have experienced domestic violence). (Applicants also may elect to donate an additional $10 to fund shelters for victims of domestic abuse).

Rationale and Benefits:

  • Anecdotal evidence from two states (MN, OK) that adopted a similar policy estimates that it increases participation in premarital education by 20%.
  • Research demonstrates that participation in premarital education can increase marital quality and reduce divorce rates in the high-risk early years of marriage. Fewer divorces will protect more children from the potential harmful consequences of unhealthy marriages and divorce.
  • Most divorces come from marriages that began with significant problems. Premarital education will provide important insights and skills for all couples and especially for these higher-risk couples.
  • One economist estimates that family breakdown in Utah costs Utah taxpayers $276 million a year. Another Utah scholar conservatively estimated the public cost of divorce in Utah to be more than $18,000 per divorce. (This does not include the personal costs.)
  • One scholar estimates that this policy change could reduce the number of divorces by 500 a year, producing an estimated savings of $9 million over 5 years to Utah taxpayers. (There are about 25,000 marriages and 10,000 divorces a year in Utah. Half of Utah
    divorces involve minor children.)
  • 9 states have passed similar legislation (FL, GA, MD, MN, OK, SC, TN, TX, WV).
  • The Utah Marriage Commission, which coordinates and promotes marriage and relationship strengthening educational services in Utah, currently is funded on a year-to-year basis by the legislature (recently at $300,000 = $150,000 from General Fund and $150,000 from federal TANF funds). This policy would provide a steadier source of funding for these services and diminish the need for funding from the general fund. Moreover, federal TANF funding is unstable.
  • Divorcing parents in Utah are required to take a class about the effects of divorce and effective co-parenting before divorcing and pay $50-65 for this class. Logically, it makes sense to provide preventive classes at no charge – think of paying for ambulances at the bottom of the cliff or building fences at the top of the cliff.
  • All Utah married couples, regardless of whether they participated in premarital education, have free ongoing access to educational services to strengthen their relationships because of the efforts of the Utah Marriage Commission. For the first time, marriage license fees would be used directly to support these free services.

 



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