Item from the Smart Marriages Archive, reproduced in the Divorce Statistics Collection

November 23, 1999

MY TURN -- SMART MARRIAGES MAKE SENSE
by Representative Mark Anderson


Just say the "M" word and watch the fireworks begin. Incredibly, marriage
has become one of modern America's most controversial subjects. Its time
to put this important topic on the table for public discussion. Because our
marriages are falling apart at an alarming rate, our society is suffering tremendous damage.

Study after study has shown that children growing up in single parent
homes generally do worse in nearly every category than their peers who are
raised in two-parent married households. This is a reality in spite of the
near-heroic efforts of many wonderful single parents fighting against the odds.

A report released by the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University
found a substantial weakening of the institution of marriage in America.
The researchers said the U.S. marriage rate has never been lower, the
divorce rate remains high, and Americans' marriages are less happy than in
the past.

"Marriage is a fundamental societal institution," the National Marriage
Project report says. "It is central to the nurture and raising of children.
It is the 'social glue' that reliably attaches fathers to children. It
contributes to the physical, emotional and economic health of men, women
and children, and thus to the nation as a whole."

When marriages break apart, or fail to form in the first place, there is
a heavy human cost, but in Arizona, taxpayers are also paying through the
nose to government for things like child support enforcement ($37.7 million in
FY 1998), domestic violence programs ($9.7 million for FY 1998), child abuse
and neglect ($113.4 million for FY 1998) not to mention welfare benefits to mothers who are dependent due to divorce and court system costs. If we can reduce the divorce rate in any measurable fashion, it will save the taxpayers substantial dollars.

I have been accused of promoting greater government involvement in
people's lives, when in reality I am trying to reduce government involvement.
Anyone having gone through a nasty divorce knows that government (through the
courts) dictates how much child support will be paid, when the
non-custodial parent may see his or her own children, and even whether or not the
custodial parent may move to another state! That, my friend, is government
control. Getting divorced or having children out-of-wedlock can be sure
ways to insure that government is in your life in a big way.

The marriage strengthening courses that I am advocating for are not
government- developed, government-taught, or mandated by government upon
the citizens. I am a conservative Republican and would oppose this kind of approach.

However, I am for education. The courses I am referring to are developed
by private organizations that have learned over the years what works. They
have documented track records of success at helping prepare couples for
marriage and preserving existing marriages.
The courses can be taught by trained individuals at minimal expense and
will be offered as an option and opportunity to those interested in learning
the skills to create and maintain a strong marriage.

If the courses are taught in high schools, we do not have to stop teaching
mathematics in order to offer marriage and relationship skills as an
elective. This is not a zero sum game as some naysayers claim. Of
course,
children must be taught math, science, reading and history. Perhaps if
they
learned communication, listening, and the other skills necessary to be a
good marriage partner, they would also perform better in all the other
academic disciplines.

In fact, Government has already spent money researching the problem of
family dysfunction, and now the information should be put to use to
develop policies that reduce family breakdown. Policymakers are looking for
solutions that work.

Anyone interested in finding out more about the marriage education
movement
should visit the smartmarriages.com website, which is a clearinghouse for
the many types of educational programs in this burgeoning field.

The state of Florida has courageously led the way by passing the Marriage
Preparation and Preservation Act earlier this year. By a nearly unanimous
vote, the bi-partisan bill was easily adopted and signed into law by
Governor Chiles. This legislation mandates that high school seniors must
take a marriage and relationship skills course to graduate from high
school.


Florida also gives a nice discount off of the marriage license fee for
couples who can show they have taken a marriage preparation course. There
is a waiting period to obtain a license of an extra three days for couples
who have not taken a course.

Governors Keating of Oklahoma, Huckabee of Arkansas and Leavitt of Utah
are
all strong proponents of strengthening marriage and are working in
high-profile ways to reduce divorce in their states and educate their
citizens as to the value of healthy marriage. The movement to improve
the
quality of our marriages and families is actually a response to what
Americans are calling for and is gaining momentum as the policymakers
catch
up.

If couples improve communication, who will benefit the most? The
children.
Numerous individuals who have grown up as children of divorced parents
have
spoken to me and written to me of the need for this legislation. The
pain
that these people have experienced perhaps could be prevented for future
children if we as a society are willing to take up the challenge and
address
the problems associated with broken families.

Finally, the longest term evaluation of skills-based, premarital training
ever conducted has been a study comparing couples trained in marriage
skills
to matched control couples (Markman, Floyd, Stanley, & Storasli, 1998;
Markman et al., 1993 Stanley et al., 1995) Trained couples have been shown
to have about half the likelihood of breaking up or divorcing, have
demonstrated greater relationship satisfaction, and have shown lower
problem
intensity than the control couples, up to five years following a weekend
training.

For countless couples whose marriages have been saved, and for their
children who are now thriving in a loving home, there is no doubt that
marriage skills training works.

So, let the critics keep on whining. In the meantime, people of good
will
are working on solutions through education. We can lower the divorce rate
in Arizona, and if we can, we should.

You may contact Representative Anderson at www.markandersonaz.com.


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