New Legislation Helps Minnesotans Reconcile Marriages

A bill just passed (May 21, 2010) in Minnesota that will provide an “off ramp” for the divorce superhighway. The new legislation establishes the Couples on the Brink Project to help families on the brink of divorce to reconcile. Couples with a history of domestic violence do not qualify.

Pro-marriage groups, such as SmartMarriages, are hailing the legislation as an innovative and far-reaching, with a potential for rolling out to other states if it is successful.

The bill was spearheaded by Bill Doherty, PhD, a psychologist and director of the University of Minnesota’s Marriage and Family Therapy Program; Judge Bruce Peterson of the Hennepin County Court; and a group of collaborate divorce lawyers. State Sen. Steve Dille, R-Dassel, was the chief author of the bill. The bill received bipartisan support.

Doherty surveyed 2,500 divorcing people in Hennepin County, and found in about one-third of cases, at least one spouse wasn’t sure divorce was the best course of action. Many couples with children were ambivalent or reluctant to divorce. Since two-thirds of divorces are brought by wives, husbands are more likely to be the “hopeful spouse” according to Doherty.

However, he says often clergy or counselors may not have the skills or training to help couples who wish to reconcile. Doherty estimates with better training for counselors and clergy, 10 percent of couples heading for divorce may be able to reconcile.

The legislation establishes that the Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota be requested to develop and implement a Minnesota couples on the brink project. The regents may administer the project with federal grants, state appropriations, and in-kind services received for this purpose. The purpose of the project is to develop, evaluate, and disseminate best practices for promoting successful reconciliation between married persons who are considering or have commenced a marriage dissolution proceeding and who choose to pursue reconciliation. The project will work with professionals, faith communities and other stakeholders.

Funding will be provided by a $5 added fee on the marriage license (from $110 to $115). However, couples who complete 12 hours of pre-marital marriage education pay only $40 for a marriage license and would also avoid the fee.

I’m in favor of innovative, research-based programs that are optional to couples on the brink of divorce (particularly with children) and that could help a great number of families and children avoid divorce. Considering how much couples spend on weddings today, adding $5 to provide this resource to the state seems very reasonable. I also appreciate how pre-marriage education is encouraged and given a financial incentive.

What are your opinions on this legislation?

6 responses to “New Legislation Helps Minnesotans Reconcile Marriages

  1. This is the first I have heard of this law and I think it is great.

    I cannot judge divorced couples, because i don’t know what they all go through, but its my opinion that, for many, divorce is just the easy way out.

    If this has any success at all at lowering the number of families that are broken up, i am all for it and other states should pay attention!

    • Thanks, Eric. I think we all agree other states should be watching to see what happens here. Kudos to Minnesota for this effort.

  2. I love a state that is willing to stand up for marriages!

    I whole-heartily believe that Premarital counseling PREVENTS so many marital problems.

    I see so many couples on the brink of divorce that could have been saved if only they would have discussed their personal values and expectations before walking down the aisle.

    Let’s hope the other states are watching…

  3. Looking for help

    I’m from MN and think this would be very helpful for my wife and I. Is there any websites with more info on how to sign up for this program?

    • I’m not certain how quickly they will implement the program. I would contact the University of Minnesota’s Marriage and Family department and ask for details on the Couples on the Brink program. Sharing your situation may allow them to put you in contact with someone who can help. Best of luck to you.

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