Op-Ed

Couples in Florida need more than state-sanctioned tips to save their marriage | Opinion

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According to Florida Rep. Clay Yarborough, half of 2018’s 156,168 marriages in the state were dissolved through divorce or annulment (77,054), costing Florida $1.9 billion.

In his quest to lower the divorce rate in Florida, Yarborough filed a bill. Under his proposal, Floridians would be required to provide documentation that they read Florida’s “Guide to a Healthy Marriage” before being able to get a marriage license.

If passed into law, “The Marriage Education Committee” will be created within the Department of Children & Families. The committee would consist of six marriage education and family advocates, two of whom shall be appointed by the governor, two by the Senate president and two by the Speaker of House. Each appointee would serve a one-year term or until such time as the “Guide to a Healthy Marriage” has been created, whichever is earlier.

The Marriage Education Committee would oversee the design and layout of the guide, which would include: resources regarding conflict management, communication skills, family expectations, financial responsibilities and management, domestic violence resources and parenting responsibilities , plus current information from and family education advocates to assist in forming and maintaining a long-term marital relationship.

The guide would also provide information regarding premarital education, marriage enrichment education and contact information to local professionals and community services.

As an attorney who helps people in Florida survive the divorce process, I believe that the representative’s efforts, while well meaning, don’t go far enough to be effective. Reading a piece of paper, without having to give any real proof that a couple understood the information — or actually read it at all — will not keep Floridians married.

In Florida, if a couple has minor children, they have to take a parenting course before being able to get divorced. Why not require everyone to take a course? Under Florida law, a spouse that does not want to get divorced can ask the judge to refer them to couple’s counseling and put the divorce on hold. Few people know that this is an option.

Instead of requiring Floridians to read tips on a healthy marriage before they get married, let’s educate them on their option of having the divorce court refer them to counseling. Why not create a how-to-save-your-marriage course? Parties that want a chance to save their marriage can ask the judge to refer them such a program before continuing with the divorce process. These are more practical options to keep people married in Florida than the proposed guide.

Patricia Elizee is an attorney based in Miami. She is a former president of the Haitian Lawyers Association and former member of the Hispanic Advisory Board for Miami-Dade County.

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