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Marriage Help Comes to Capitols

Lawmakers in three states are assessing the latest legal tactics to strengthen American marriages.

In North Carolina, the proposed Healthy Marriage Act would require divorcing couples to attend communication counseling and, if applicable, a class on how divorce affects children. The waiting time before a divorce could be finalized would be doubled (to two years), and couples would no longer be required to live separately during the interim.

In Texas and Georgia, lawmakers are considering similar bills that would apply only to parents of children under 18. The bills would extend waiting periods to 6 months and 11 months, respectively.

The bills are the latest attempts to reverse troubling marriage numbers, where no current strategy is a clear winner. While the divorce rate has dropped over the past decade (from 4 per 1,000 people in 2000 to 3.6 in 2011), marriage rates are dropping as well (from 8.2 in 2000 to 6.8 in 2011).

The bills take a different tack than Louisiana's pioneering "covenant marriages," where couples waive their rights to a no-fault divorce and have to seek counseling before getting one. Only 2 in 100 couples opt for a covenant marriage, but do stay together more often than those in traditional marriages, said W. Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia (UVA). "It was having that sense of commitment, and the expectation that if they did divorce, it would be more difficult."

But the counseling requirement proved dicey, since not all counselors are pro-marriage, said Mike McManus, president of Marriage Savers. "What [a study] found was quite disturbing," he said, citing Covenant Marriage by UVA sociology professor Steven ...

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In the Magazine

June 2013

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