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9 J.L. & Fam. Stud. 79 (2007)
Will Legislation to Encourage Premarital Education Strengthen Marriage and Reduce Divorce

handle is hein.journals/jlfst9 and id is 87 raw text is: Will Legislation to Encourage Premarital Education
Strengthen Marriage and Reduce Divorce?
Alan J. Hawkins*
Many legislators are wondering whether there is a constructive role that
government can play to strengthen marriages and reduce divorces. A handful of
states have passed legislation providing incentives for couples to participate in
formal premarital education. The purpose of this article is to examine the research
that can help answer the question whether legislation to promote premarital
education can strengthen marriages and reduce the divorce rate. Of course, there
are numerous legal and policy issues related to marriage and divorce being
discussed these days. The focus of this article, however, is only on one. In the end,
I conclude that legislation to promote premarital education is a feasible, cost-
effective policy that is likely to strengthen marriages and reduce the divorce rate in
states where it is implemented.
A. Existing Premarital Education Legislation
Five states-Florida, Maryland, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Tennessee-have
passed legislation encouraging couples to participate in formal premarital
education: education or counseling to help couples explore relationship strengths
and weaknesses and learn what it takes to have a successful marriage.' Other
states, such as Utah, have considered this legislation but not acted upon or rejected
it.2 The purpose of this legislation is to enhance the chances of couples achieving
more stable, satisfying, and healthy marital relationships by encouraging the use of
* Professor of Family Life, Brigham Young University. In a spirit of full disclosure, I testified
on Jan. 19, 2006, before the Utah House Health & Human Services Committee on behalf of H.B. 8, a
bill to promote premarital education.
IN STATES TO STRENGTHEN MARRIAGE AND Two-PARENT FAMILIES 12 (2004), available at Three states-AZ, LA, and AR-have passed
covenant marriage legislation that requires premarital education for couples who choose to enter a
covenant marriage. I discuss this legislative option later in Section III.C.
2 According to information posted on, a pay-for-service site which
tracks legislation on premarital preparation, at least nine states have proposed but not passed bills to
encourage premarital preparation: California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Michigan, North
Dakota, Utah, and West Virginia. For instance, in 2006 the Utah legislature considered H.B. 8,
Marriage Preparation Education, that provided for a $20 reduction in the marriage license fee for
couples who participated in at least eight hours of marriage preparation training that included
instruction in communication and conflict management skills (including an understanding of what
constitutes domestic abuse), financial management skills, and commitment. H.B. 8, 56th Leg., Gen.
Session (Utah 2006) 1, 2-4, available at
The instruction can be provided by licensed therapists, social workers, professional counselors, and
clinical psychologists, as well as non-governmental persons (i.e., religious ministers). Id. at 4.

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